How do you know if you are called to missions? Do you have what it takes? Where do you even begin if you want to be a missionary? You may be asking yourself similar questions. I knew I was when I first had an interest in mission work. If you are reading this blog, chances are you have many of the following qualities. The qualities that you don’t have will be listed to give you a good basis from which you can grow.
What are the qualities that the best missionaries have in common? There are dozens of qualities that mark the best missionaries. The foundational ones include a heart devoted to God above all else, the daily life of prayer, reading of the word, and worship. Additional qualities include that of resilience, persevering and growing faith, humility, and a lifestyle of learning.
In this blog, I will continue to list and explain the numerous qualities of the best type of missionaries. I will use scriptural backing as a basis for many of the qualities. Other qualities are more practical.
Qualities of the Best Missionaries
There are dozens of qualities that are crucial, helpful, and beneficial to missionaries. Some of these qualities are easier for certain individuals because of their personality type. However, the best qualities of missionaries rely less on their natural abilities, skills, or personal knowledge.
Instead, it relies most heavily on their connection with God, their humility, and their desire/initiative to learn. Missionaries and potential missionaries do not require all of these qualities before pursuing God’s heart in a cross-cultural sense.
Rather, they should first build their foundation on scripture, prayer, and worship. Later, they can develop these qualities and glean from others. Ultimately, God is the One strengthing and willing His people to do the good works He has planned.
1. They Have a Heart for God Above All Else
First, missionaries must have a heart for God above all else. If this is not the case, their ministry will not surpass this world. It will not make as much of a spiritual or physical difference as there is potential for.
It is only through eyes focused on God that missionaries can do their work. God is the Lord of all. He is the boss. This is especially the case for missionaries. When you think of it, missionaries don’t have a boss or CEO in the sense of other occupations. It is possible for missionaries to become their own guiding light.
Missionaries must have a heart for God for their own spiritual wellbeing and that of the world. If there are ulterior motives, missionaries should post-pone their work, or be intentional about getting their heart in the right place.
2. They Have First-Hand Experience with God
The ultimate goal of a missionary is to spread the life-changing news of Jesus Christ to the world. Missionaries are promoting the message and story of God for all of creation. If missionaries do not have their own experience with God, they can not lead others to Him.
Missionaries may have compassion for the broken, a plan, and the skill set needed to make a difference. However, if they do not have the message of God with passion, and authority that comes from knowing God, they are merely a humanitarian.
Being a humanitarian is a noble act. Yet, there is so much more that God desires for humanity than physical relief in part. God desires ultimate restoration. This only comes through the power over sin and death, which only comes through Jesus.
3. Their Faith is Persevering and Growing
Hebrews 11:6 states, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”
Likewise, Ephesians 2:8-9 explains, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works so that no one can boast.” Faith is necessary to please God, to receive salvation from God, and to do the work of God.
Our faith should be evident. At times, our faith will grow weak. Jesus reassures us in Matthew 17:20. Our faith will be weak and small, but it still has power. He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
The goal isn’t to have the most prominent faith. Instead, the goal is to have progressive faith that grows and can withstand hardship and trial. Persevering faith is needed in the life of a missionary.
4. Their Character Resembles Christ
The character of a missionary should reflect that of Christ. No one is perfect like Christ. Despite this, we are called to resemble Him in as many ways as possible. We are called to transform into the image of His glory.
Missionaries should display these characteristics, or at least be on the journey of displaying more of them. This list is not exhaustive. There are hundreds of characteristics that could be listed.
- Unconditional Love
- Understanding and Compassion for Others
- Wisdom and Discernment
- Firmness in the Word
- The desire for and a Life Spent Seeking Justice
- A Life without Hypocrisy
5. They Read and Study Scripture
The Bible should not be foreign to the missionary. Missionaries should have an overall understanding of the Bible and be consistently and intentionally in it. They should be in the process of reading the entire Bible if they haven’t already done so.
They should read the Bible as a whole story, not only devotionally. Furthermore, they should think critically about scripture. It is helpful to understand the cultural, historical, and literary background of scripture.
6. The Guide for All Life is Scripture
The ultimate guide for life is scripture. Scripture should always be addressed before going to another source. There are many other helpful resources available. I, along with many others, have benefited from them. However, the foundation must always be the word of God.
There is much to learn through scripture that can apply to everyday life. Psalm 119:105 states, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”
7. Prayer and Worship are Common
Prayer and worship are common, if not daily, actions of a missionary. As John Piper would say, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” Missions not only helps people, but it also glorifies and worships God.
A missionary does his or her work as an act of worship for God. If a missionary does not participate in genuine prayer and worship before going on the field, he or she will struggle while overseas. Prayer keeps us alive and connected to Christ. We would do well to follow Jesus’ example, He prayed daily, and even nightly.
8. The Love of God Has Made an Impact
In addition, the best missionaries have been impacted firsthand by the love of God. They have experienced God’s love first-hand. They have recognized the goodness and unconditional love of God. This has transformed them, healed them, and is continuing good work in them.
Some individuals may be able to pinpoint a particular moment where they felt or more clearly understood the love of God. For others, they may not have a particular moment. However, when they look at their overall life, they can see the hand of God working in it.
Once we have experienced the love of God, it is hard not to reciprocate this to those around us. For instance, 1 John 4:19 states, “We love because he first loved us.” Those who have experienced the love of God want others to experience it. They also want to be vessels of love and light in a dark and hurting world.
9. There is a Desire for Holiness
It is necessary for believers to desire holiness. 1 Peter 1:16 explains our response to God’s holiness. It says, “Be holy, because I am holy.” We as believers are called to live holy lives empowered by the Holy Spirit because the God we serve is holy.
Our holiness is not of our own works, that we could boast. Rather, our holiness comes from Jesus’ sacrifice. However, we still have the responsibility to pursue holiness and sanctification.
Some of the best missionaries desired holiness and obedience with humility and reverence. They understood the great joy that comes from a life empowered over sin. They realized that it is so much better to follow God’s perfect plan, than to follow our own fleshly desires. Furthermore, they recognize that the gospel is not one of cheap grace. They recognize the cost that Jesus paid and the seriousness of His blessed gift.
10. Priority Goes To Their Relationship with God
This one may seem conflicting at first. You might be thinking, “Aren’t we supposed to put others first?” “Shouldn’t our priority always be other people?” “Isn’t it bad to put me first?” While yes, we are supposed to love others as we love ourselves, we must do so in the right order.
In Matthew 22:37-38 Jesus explains, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” Missionaries must first love God with all their heart, soul, and mind.
If they are not in right relationship with God, they will be unable to lead others. It is crucial that they first have a healthy and flouring relationship with God. For some, this may mean they need to take time off of ministry to get right with God. Our connection with God and the following of the Holy Spirit is much more important than our productivity. God still works in our weaknesses.
Missionaries who do not prioritize God in their own life often burnout, leave the field early, or lose the faith altogether. It is of utmost importance that missionaries maintain and grow in their own faith while in ministry.
11. Learning is an On-Going Experience
For the successful missionary, learning is an on-going experience. They do not stop learning after Bible or mission school, or even after years of missions. They remain humble. Furthermore, they look for new opportunities to learn. They do not go about situations as having all the answers.
When interacting in other cultures, they don’t dominantly bring their way and their wisdom. Instead, they ask local people questions. They have an interest in seeing things in a new light.
Things don’t get old too quickly, because there is always more to learn and experience. They value team members, locals, and all people because they recognize that each individual provides new insight.
In addition, missionaries use the resources around them to continue learning. This may include being mentored by others, reading books, watching documentaries, researching topics, or listening to audiobooks.
12. They are Teachable
Likewise, successful missionaries are teachable. They are humble enough to take correction and to learn new skills. Furthermore, they are willing to learn new skills that aren’t glamorous and that are often difficult.
They take the role of servanthood that Jesus portrayed. They will learn a new job if that’s what it takes to financially support their mission community. If something is done incorrectly, they are respectful and willing to do it over again, even if they don’t agree 100%.
Lastly, they don’t assume power. They don’t view themselves as the boss of the operations. Instead, they have a board of people who keep them on the straight and narrow path.
13. There is a Willingness to Try New Challenges
It is no new revelation that mission work is hard. The best missionaries are willing to try new challenges. When missionaries see a challenge, they do not give up. They try something new. If that doesn’t work, they try again.
New challenges will come up regularly in the life of a missionary. Not only is there a cultural difference, but the lifestyle is also different. The area typically isn’t as modern, and there are various religious and language barriers to cross.
Missionaries need to accept the fact that there will be challenges. They need to ready themselves. They should try to develop a willingness to try new things in the face of difficulty. Perfection does not have to be attained at first. It is about growth and lessons learned.
14. Humility is a Virtue
Humility is the groundwork for most of these things. Without humility, missionaries will struggle in their own walk with God. They will struggle with teammates and even local people. Learning will not continue because they will believe they have all the answers already.
1 Peter 5:5b states, “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” The best missionaries are those that are humble. God can use humble people who are submitted to Him. But He has to deal with the pride in other individuals who are not submitted.
15. They Work Well in Teams
Teamwork is important for any type of operation to work. God designed for His people to form a body. This means that each member of the body is important and has a different role.
1 Corinthians 12:12-13 explains, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
Teamwork is not only essential in the workplace. It is essential in the Kingdom of God. It is also essential in the spreading of the Kingdom of God. Jesus prayed for the oneness of His church in John 17:20-21.
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me” (Emphasis added).
16. They Have a Desire for Holistic Change
Although the primary call of a missionary is to bring the good news of Christ, missionaries cannot stop only there. James 1:27 explains, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
Throughout scripture, it is clear to see that God does not care only about the spiritual wellbeing of people. God desires justice for all people in all ways. Whenever possible, and through various means, believers are called to care for the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs of the world.
17. They are Personable
Missionaries will be working very closely with other people. It is helpful and enjoyable when they are personable. Those who love relationships, quality time, and getting to know new people make for great missionaries.
18. Personal Gifts and Talents are Recognized
Every individual on the planet has gifts and talents. All people are made in the image of God. They have something to offer the world. Some people are creative with art, music, business, writing, athletics, or intellect. All of these things and more are ways to glorify God. They can also be used on the mission field.
The best missionaries recognize that they have gifts and talents to give back to God and other people. They are humble and not self-seeking. However, they do not have false humility. They recognize that when God gives a gift to us, He intends for us to continue giving it to others.
It is beneficial and helpful when missionaries know what they are good at. This way, they can better spend their time working efficiently in ways God prepared them to. This also opens up possibilities for others to use their gifts in compliment.
19. They See the Gifts in Others
Likewise, the best missionaries recognize the gifts in others. They realize that they are not the only ones with giftings or talent. They realize that their giftings work best when they are paired with the giftings of another. The body of Christ is recognized and it is able to function properly.
The best missionaries call out the good in others. They seek the good and they seek to encourage. They do not seek to bring others down. Instead, they desire to see all of their teammates, the global body of Christ, and all individuals thrive in their God-given potential.
20. Leadership by Example
Missionaries lead by example. They do not lead by force or dominance. Rather, they lead as Jesus did. Mark 10:45 proclaims, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus rode on the back of a young donkey when He could have ridden the best horse and chariot. Jesus washed the feet of His disciples when He could have been served. He gave Himself for the sake of the world when He could’ve ruled over the world in force.
Jesus is the ultimate example of leadership. Luke 14:8-10 also advises believers to take the place of humility, even when the place of honor is available at the moment. It explains, “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.”
“If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests.”
21. Travel is Exciting
It is beneficial if missionaries find travel exciting. Of course, this is not necessary to be a missionary. There have been many missionaries that did not like travel but responded to the call of God nonetheless. However, those who find travel exciting may be a good candidate for mission work.
Those who do not like travel but who feel called to serve God in a cross-cultural way to rest knowing God’s grace is sufficient. God also can put the desire to travel within one’s heart. I have heard of people who were originally opposed to many ideas. Once they tried them, they found they loved them.
22. New Foods are Intriguing
Again, this is not necessary but a perk when going on the mission field. For those who enjoy new foods, missions are exciting. In another culture, there are hundreds of different foods to explore.
Mealtimes are especially important in relationally focused culture. They place a high value on hospitality. Therefore, if you are invited into the homes or restaurants of others, you will certainly try new foods.
23. Cultural Differences are Appreciated
In the same vein, it is important for missionaries to appreciate different cultures. There is a common misconception, especially in Western Christianity concerning culture. Westerners have been known to impose their cultural norms on other cultures. While this may have been done with good intent, it is not necessary for people to assimilate to Western culture in order to be Christian.
Culture should be appreciated and preserved as much as possible. All cultures have good and bad in them. The good can often reflect God. The bad should be addressed in light of scripture and prayer. It is wrong to believe that one culture is the right one.
It is helpful and enjoyable if missionaries appreciate and look forward to learning more about culture and living within it.
24. They are Resilient
The term resilience describes a person who can quickly recover from hardship or adversity. Resilience is what keeps missionaries on the field when times become hard. There will be moments when the excitement, zeal, and newness wears off. There are also be times that are marked by great hardship.
Resilience is a prominent quality in the type of people who make large impacts in the world. The first apostle and Early Christians were extremely resilient. They faced hardship almost daily.
2 Corinthians 4:8-10 states, “We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”
25. Their Strengths are Not Just Their Own
Missionaries cannot rely on their own strength. Their strength will fail them. They must rely on the strength of God and others. A self-sufficient mindset will not provide for a sustainable and flouring ministry.
26. They Welcome Accountability
All believers should welcome accountability. This is the Biblical model. Proverbs 15:22 states, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers, they succeed.” Accountability holds believers to the standard of the word. It is harder to fall into sin or deception when there are solid people in your community.
27. Personal Correction is Made When Needed
Psalm 139:23-24 is the prayer that all believers should pray. It says, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
The book of Psalms as a whole is a cry for God’s wisdom and help. It is where the Psalmist prayers earnestly to know and follow God’s law. He desires to walk in righteousness. Missionaries should also have this mentality and desire. They should ask the Lord for insight. They should respond by making any personal changes that are needed.
28. Mental, Emotional, Physical, and Spiritual Healing is Addressed
Missionaries have a tough calling to work with some of the most broken, overlooked, oppressed, or abused people. For this reason, they must be aware of their own struggles. They should seek holistic healing for their own life so that they will be better able to help others.
Before going on the field and while on the field, missionaries should reflect upon their mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. They should make any changes needed to create sustainability.
Throughout the years there have been missionaries of great honor and fame. They lived lives of great sacrifices. Perhaps the greatest missionary was the Apostle Paul and the Apostles of the Early Church. History has also witnessed other great men and women of faith. If you are interested in learning more about these individuals and their work, refer to the blog posts below.
- William Carey: Pioneer to India and Father of Modern Missions.
- Adoniram and Ann Judson: Pioneers of Overseas Missions
- Hudson Taylor: Founder of the China Inland Mission
- Jim and Elisabeth Elliot: Undivided Devotion to God and the Unreached
- The Apostle Paul: A Breakdown of Paul’s Four Missionary Journeys
Learn more about global missions and your role as a believer, through the blog and resources of Bethany Global University.