Believers preparing for a career in missions have boxes to check. They need a calling from God and a passion for the world. They need a supportive network of friends and family, not to mention a financial plan for making ends meet on the field.
But if you're a missionary in the making, there's another important thing you need to consider: what to do about mission sending agencies.
It's something that some future missionaries might not think about, or they might put it off until it's absolutely necessary. But if you're weighing a call to missions and wondering where to start, deciding whether a mission sending agency is right for you (and how to pick one) represents a huge piece of the puzzle.
In general, mission sending agencies are your lifeline as a missionary serving in another country. These organizations serve as a touchpoint for life back home, along with providing the support you need on the ground. They provide connection instead of isolation and offer the kind of support that no one else can.
One of the primary jobs of a mission sending agency is to determine if you're ready to take the field. Through cultural and language training, spiritual formation exercises, and personal evaluations, an agency can open the door to the greatest experience of your life. But they also can save you from making a drastic mistake if you're not prepared for an overseas assignment.
Assuming you are ready to go, a sending agency can help you search for missionary jobs to identify and connect you with opportunities. In addition, your sending agency can offer important logistical support, like travel arrangements, insurance, and visas. Many agencies also manage your finances. They can teach you how to raise support and steward the money that comes into your account.
Perhaps more than anything, mission sending agencies offer accountability. Whether it's ministry, relationships, finances, or spiritual health, the best sending agencies watch out for their people's well-being and intervene during times of crisis.
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..."
Of course, there's no law that says you have to partner with a mission sending agency. Many missionaries "go it alone," or they work with a church or parachurch organization. You will need to do your homework to evaluate various mission sending agencies and to determine which one (if any) is right for you.
As you think about the pros and cons of mission sending agencies, you need to establish some criteria for evaluation, and we've listed some important starting points below. Honestly, these should probably be deal breakers for you because ignoring any of them will likely cause problems for you—and the agency—down the road.
If a sending agency's theology does not align with your key beliefs, move on to the next option. One way to resolve this issue is to lean into your denomination's agency. But if you choose another route, make sure you agree on non-negotiable theological issues.
If God has called you to the mission field, you have some deeply-held ideas about what missions are all about. You need to make sure your vision for missions aligns with the sending agency's vision. That includes issues like methodology and sustainability. If theology is the "what" in missions, philosophy is the "why" and the "how."
It's not selfish to expect a mission sending agency to have your back. You should absolutely be comfortable with a group's plan for getting you to the field and meeting your emotional, physical, and spiritual needs once you arrive. Not to mention, you'll need a financial plan, so make sure you're aligned on things like travel costs and salary (if applicable). Even the strongest believer following the most passionate call will struggle with adjusting to life overseas. Be sure your agency has a plan to support you.
The best mission sending agencies work hard to prepare their missionaries for what's coming their way on the field. That can encompass things like cultural and language training, which are vital. But it also includes spiritual guidance and basic life skills. The value of personal and spiritual preparation can't be overstated, so prioritize agencies that will do their best to set you up for success through training.
Most missionary sending agencies are sincere and committed to their calling, but sketchy operators do exist, so you have to be careful. Look at things like how long an agency has been sponsoring missionaries and how effective their work has been over that time. Of course, you'll want to ensure a group's financial integrity. One great way to do that is by checking their standing with the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA). A good mission agency will hold you to a high standard, and its leaders won't be offended if you hold them to a high standard as well.
Honestly, the number of mission sending agencies continues to grow. As noted, some are affiliated with particular denominations, while others are private organizations. But they're all passionate about fulfilling the Great Commission.
So, you have a lot of options—and that's not a bad thing. It just means you'll need to be intentional in your research.
While internet searches are fine, don't ignore the benefit of talking with actual missionaries who are on the field or have been overseas. It could be an individual on furlough or a veteran who's now retired. Better yet, talk to as many as you can.
Missionaries can give you great insight into some best practices for picking a mission sending agency. They also can help you know what to expect once you're in the country. Maybe most important, their stories and wisdom can inspire you in a way nothing else could.
Don't miss this opportunity to hear God's voice through someone who's already.
We help connect your professional skills and biblical calling to the largest database of healthcare mission organizations, professionals, and thought leadership. Join us at the Global Missions Health Conference to find your Medical Missions calling. Or, browse our full list of partner organizations to find the right mission for you.