Welcome to "Missions on Point," the Propempo perspective on church and missions.
Welcome to episode 37 of "Missions on Point." This is the 12th of a 13 element series on "Keys to Effectiveness as a Missionary." Thanks for sticking with us in these. It's ultimately for God's glory, and the progress of the gospel and the church of the Lord Jesus Christ around the world. Today's principle, or key to effectiveness, is stamina or durability. It's longevity on the field. There are a couple of sayings in everyday life that reinforce this. There's the saying that possession is 90% of ownership. Another one is 90% of effectiveness in your job, whether as a student or professional, is just showing up for work. You can translate this in spiritual terms, and biblically it makes sense that where there is a sustained witness, sustained teaching, ongoing presence, ongoing influence of people on the field, that missionary is going to be more effective than somebody that is in and out, or totally gone.
For the missionary, longevity has its own value. There are terrible attrition rates. It's hard to figure out and feel what a missionary feels, when they have to leave the field. Often, they have invested years of time in getting the pre-field training, and authorization, and the search to get to the right field or the right team, before they even arrive on the field. Their expectation and everything that they've told their friends, their loved ones, their church back home, is that they plan to stay until they die, or until the Lord removes them somehow. General statistics show that 85% of the people who say, "I feel called as a missionary," never actually make it to the field. So we're talking about the 15% that have endured the gauntlet of all the pre-field stuff, to arrive on the field safely, with high optimism and expectations. Add to that, some of the grievous statistics about ongoing life on the field and the stamina, durability, longevity of missionaries on the field.
75% of missionaries who go to hard context, that is difficult context, that are naturally in opposition to Christianity, the Bible, the gospel, don't remain after five years. 75%. Across the board for all missionaries, something like 6,000 missionaries in round numbers leave the mission field every year. There are 50,000 missionaries that leave every 8.4 years. That's almost half of the North American missionary force. 74% of those missionaries who leave, leave because of preventable attrition. Attrition in the context we're talking about is leaving the field for whatever reason. There is unpreventable attrition. There are lots of genuine reasons why missionaries leave the field that are unpreventable, things like the health of parents, or a profound need in their family, even among their children, health issues that are clearly not their fault. Perhaps it is a political issue that drives them away from the field. There are lots and lots of unpreventable reasons why people leave the field, but that's only 26% of the total who leave the field.
We at Propempo are very, very interested in helping missionaries, and their sending churches, drastically lower the percentages and the numbers of missionaries leaving the field due to preventable attrition. A few years ago, I studied D-Day and particularly the American involvement at Omaha Beach. Omaha Beach is renowned as being the most gruesome, heaviest, wartime attrition of death and casualties of any American battle short of Gettysburg. But the attrition at Omaha Beach on D-Day, pales in comparison to the preventable attrition rates among missionaries. Omaha Beach was about 13%. We're talking about preventable attrition of 74% across the world of missionaries. I want to talk to you about two perspectives. One is the sending church, or agency, or friend supporter point of view. That is the sending point of view. And secondly, we'll talk about the missionary's point of view. First, from the sending point of view, I think it's important that people come around the missionary to correct the two major causes of preventable attrition.
One is lack of proper expectations. Unrealistic expectations are the cause of so much preventable attrition. Missionaries are idealists, they're gung ho or they wouldn't be missionaries. They have a lot of wonderful ideas and visions for what could happen on the field. And when field life is challenging, difficult, the suffering is real and significant, they have a problem with that. And often, their unrealistic expectations work against them to cause them to be defeated, depressed, concerned, to the point of wanting to throw in the towel. I remember dealing with one such young missionary early in his career. He'd gone through language school. He joined a church planting team. He wanted to have a special meeting with me. I went to his house, had lunch with his family. We sat and talked and he said, "I'm ready to quit. I just can't get it. It's too hard, too challenging, too difficult. I'm not seeing enough progress. I don't know how much my goals and plans for ministry are going to be fulfilled with fruitfulness. Therefore, I want to go home."
And I told him, "take a number. There's a long line of people ahead of you who want to go home too, but they're staying and you should stay too." In God's providence, to finish the story, this missionary did stay and he actually became quite an effective missionary. So much so that at one point, he was the field leader for a while, and no doubt he was telling young missionaries, "take a number. There's a long line ahead of you that want to quit. Don't quit yet." The way to overcome the unrealistic expectations is to have solid pre-field training and experience, that opens up their eyes to have realistic expectations when they arrive.
They need to study well as best they can the culture that they're going to. Even the language challenges and linguistic abilities that they need to learn the language. They need to be prepared for what it's like to live there, which means probably they need to visit someplace that is close or similar to their target population in order for them to have realistic expectations. They need to talk to people from there about the difficulties and challenges, not just the glory stories, but the day-to-day grind and suffering that takes place on the mission field as close to their area of proposed service as possible. Then when they get there, their expectations will be more realistic, they'll be able to handle that. The second area deals specifically with what I call local church accountability relationship. There needs to be a body that has some authority with and over the missionary in their spiritual life and development, in their shepherding, and care, that is able to speak to accountability.
So that with regular communication between the missionary and their local church that loves them, cares for them, wants to see them succeed for the long term on the field, they will be aware of the concerns, the problems, the questions that arise, the depression, the emotional, spiritual things that are going on, that might keep them from serving long-term, having the stamina to stick with it for year after year and seeing God work through it. Shepherding through crises. It may be a marital conflict, it may be a team conflict, it may be problems with their children, but having that accountability relationship means that not only somebody cares and puts their arm around them, maybe they're providing resources to help them overcome those issues so that they can stay. They need somebody to put their arm around them and say, "it's okay. We know it's hard. We knew it was going to be hard before we started. God can help us get through this together." And walk them through that period of crisis time together so they don't throw in the towel.
That local church accountability relationship can solve so many cases of preventable attrition. If the missionary feels all alone out there, or that their field administration doesn't care somehow, then they are much more likely to want to just sort of slide out of the picture, and go back home where it's more comfortable, and things are a little bit easier. The second major part of this is the missionaries part. Of course, missionaries when they arrive on the field are highly committed. They've been talking about their commitment for months or years before, but when the going gets tough, it becomes more real. It's hard to shop for groceries, and fresh foods, and do all the stuff that you have to do to just set the table for your family day by day. It's hard to work in another language and culture. Sometimes as well as you might speak it, you just don't really understand.
It's hard to figure out Biblical terminology and spiritual truths and express that in another language and culture. It's really challenging when relationships don't work out very well, and there's conflict, and confusion, and argument. It's tough when your team isn't as joyful, and exuberant, and energetic, as you would like them all to be. In fact, they actually sometimes oppose your ideas. How can that be? It's hard when other missionaries that you have to relate to week to week, month to month, don't see things the way you see them. They don't even discipline their children the way you think they should be disciplined, or they criticize you for not disciplining the way they think they should be disciplined. So, all of these things just wrap up in a big ball of yarn of tangled issues, and mess, and cause the missionary to think, "maybe I would be better at home. Maybe I'm not so effective here. Maybe I can't make it through. Maybe I have the wrong priorities."
And let me tell you, missionaries don't naturally seek help from others. Most missionaries are strong-willed enough to get to the field, which also means they're strong-willed enough to think they can do it on their own, and when they can't, they don't naturally humble themselves and seek help from others. That's why that local church accountability relationship comes in. So, you have to encourage your missionary, "stick with it. You can get through this. We can help you with resources, with care, with shepherding, with a visit, with a challenge, with spiritual accountability for sinfulness, whether it be attitudes, or pride, or actual sinful practices, or habits that have cropped up. We can help you get over that and stay on the field with stamina and durability for the long term."
Missionary life is not too different than regular life. If you stick at it doing the right things over the long term, you will see results that last, we trust they will last for eternity. So pray with your missionaries. Get to know them well, get to be in their kitchen, so to speak. Get beneath the surface, and find out what things are challenging them, what things are bringing them down emotionally, spiritually, physically, even in their living environment, in their relationships with their neighbors, with their team. Find out what it is that you can do to help them stay for the long term. Don't allow them to think that it is going to be better just because they get home. In fact, a lot of missionaries who leave the field early, find adjustment back home to be a huge burden and distress, partly because they have not fulfilled their idealistic picture of the long term, and they've come home. And they have to totally readjust to a different kind of life, and maybe a totally different kind of vocation. So it's tough for people coming back home.
So the flip side of that is if they come back home, wrap your arms around them and help them recover, and fully integrate into meaningful service and fellowship in the local church, because even their negative missionary experience can be used by the Lord to help other missionaries moving forward. And to the missionaries who may be listening to this podcast, I say, "stick with it, brother. Stick with it, sister. God can help you overcome this. Humble yourself. Find some help. Find a sounding board from a spiritual, godly person that can help you work through these issues in your life and get to the other side. It may mean that you have to reevaluate your priorities. You may have to do things differently, but you can get through. God will help you for his glory, we pray so."
Thanks for joining us today on "Missions on Point," the Propempo perspective on church and missions. I trust that you'll find more help and resources on the website, propempo.com. Please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry. Now to God be glory in the church, and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.
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