How to Avoid Missionary Burnout

  1. Share
0 0

Unlike other vocations, missionary burnout doesn’t just affect a person’s body and emotions. It also carries spiritual implications—both for missionaries and those they are called to reach. 

Stress and burnout are realities in every profession. Without proper self-care, any career can become a breeding ground for workaholism and unrealistic expectations. Any job can convince you that a little more will get you over the top or that you’re the only one who can save the day.

Whether you’re on the field now or preparing for a life of missionary service, you need to understand the dangers of missionary burnout.


Know Yourself Helps Avoid Burnout

Missionaries start out with a heart fully committed to God. They feel a passion for the nations, and they long to share the gospel with others. So, it might come as a shock when following God’s call creates an incredible amount of stress—stress that can lead to missionary burnout.

But burnout among missionaries actually makes sense. For one thing, they embrace more than their fair share of shifting paradigms by packing up and moving to another culture. Missionaries experience change on a dozen levels, and sometimes those changes create stress.

One common measure of stress is called the Holmes-Rahe Inventory. This chart measures stress by assigning a number value to the various transitions in a person’s life. One or two life transitions at a time are relatively normal. Multiple life transitions (like what missionaries face) can create a perfect storm of stress and anxiety.

In addition, missionaries often are exposed to the worst this world has to offer. The needs are so great, and the resources are so limited. Trying to be all things to all people can become overwhelming, which leads to stress and missionary burnout.

So, as you consider how you can avoid burnout as a missionary, understanding who you are and embracing your limits is a great place to start. Set realistic expectations and remember that you can never solve every problem. Let God lead you and when necessary, let God heal you. Do the best you can and leave the results in His hands.


The Self-Check

Beyond knowing yourself and accepting your limits, stock your missionary toolbox with practical ideas for reducing stress and avoiding burnout. Take time to check yourself through a regular self-care evaluation. On the surface, that might sound selfish, but nothing could be further from the truth. God didn’t call you to burn the candle at both ends. He called you to serve Him effectively, and you can’t do that if you don’t take care of yourself.


How to Avoid Missionary Burnout

Find ways to relieve stress.

On the mission field, you will face stressful seasons, but you should never operate in high gear on a permanent basis. Spiritual disciplines like Bible reading, prayer, and fellowship will help you maintain a healthy balance. But look for additional ways to relieve stress and avoid missionary burnout outside your spiritual routines.

For example, find some quiet time to read a book or listen to music simply for enjoyment. Make time for exercise. You don’t have to run a marathon, but you do need to get your heart rate going. Start a new hobby that will recharge your batteries. Above all, set aside intentional time for rest each day, week, and month. Again, “me” time is not selfish. Even Jesus encouraged His followers to get away for a while (Mark 6:30-31).


Change things up.

As noted, too much change can create additional stress and hasten burnout. But that doesn’t mean you should never change anything! Routines are good, but embracing change often can be better. The old cliché says variety is the spice of life. So, do what’s required to add appropriate spice to your experience.

Alter your schedule or create new traditions. Delegate some jobs so you can focus on other commitments. Those ideas can be tough; but, if they save you from stress and burnout, it’s worth the trip outside your comfort zone. 


Invest in relationships.

Isolation is the main ingredient in the recipe for burnout among missionaries. Even if you have a great family and friends on the field, you can still feel alone in your new reality. Find ways to intentionally form relationships that have nothing to do with work. Build connections based on mutual interests, not mutual ministry. 

If you’re struggling, talk to people who can help. Reject the idea that God wants you to “tough it out” or “go it alone.” You’re part of the body of Christ. So, lean into the people He provides to support and mentor you.


Practice gratitude.

One great thing about thanksgiving is how it shifts your attention. It forces you to look in a different direction and refocus. Of course, gratitude is no silver bullet. It never denies what’s going on around you. But it does remind you that God is really big and that you are part of His grand design.


Reject the voices in your head.

Missionary burnout is often associated with the drive to do more. But that drive is often fueled by a false belief that you are not enough and need to do more to measure up. Even as you’re working hard to serve God faithfully, the enemy will whisper lies designed to tear you down.

Thankfully, even as a missionary, you are not what you do. You are more than a missionary, and that’s how God sees you! So, instead of listening to the unhealthy voices that lead to burnout for missionaries, embrace what Jesus says about you. Lean deeply into His truth: He loves you more than you could ever imagine—and, with Him, you are always more than enough for any job He has for you. 


Pay attention to physical red flags.

For missionaries, there’s a fine line between being uncomfortable and being unhealthy. Sometimes, that line’s a little fuzzy. And if it gets too blurry, it can lead to missionary burnout. 

God gave us pain as a warning sign. So, if you’re suffering physically, listen to your body and get help. That doesn’t mean you’re weak. It means you’re wise!


Take on Missions with Confidence

As a missionary, keep this checklist close to your heart and mind. It can help you be more effective as a minister and protect you from the pitfalls that create stress and burnout on the mission field.

If you’re already suffering from burnout—or think you might be on the brink—you need to do two things: get help and give yourself time. This is not a battle you should fight alone. Talk with a professional who is trained to address missionary burnout. And remember that you will not get through this overnight. It’s a process, so let the process work—even if it means taking a break from the field.

Your mission is important, but God created you to function in a healthy way. Take the necessary steps to avoid missionary burnout so you can become the servant that God created you to be.



Discover Medical Missions.

Medical Missions serves to 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.


To leave a comment, login or sign up.

Related Content

World Medical Mission From Samaritan’s Purse
Sometimes, God calls a person or group to stand in a gap. That's been a recurring theme in the history of World Medical Mission. A ministry of Samaritan's Purse, World Medical Mission has been sending medical professionals on mission trips around the globe for more than four decades—and the group has no intention of slowing down.   How Samaritan's Purse Started World Medical Mission In 1977, two brothers, who happened to be surgeons, were looking for an avenue to use their skills and talents on a short-term mission project. In an effort to find a good fit, they approached Franklin Graham, the founder of Samaritan's Purse. At the time, Samaritan's Purse did not sponsor medical missions trips, so Graham started looking for other groups that would meet the brothers' needs. However, the more he searched, Graham recognized a gap in the world of missions. So, he accepted the challenge of creating a place where doctors and other medical professionals could come for short-term missions placement. As a result, World Medical Mission was born. In time, the group became a partner organization with Global Health Missions Conference.   How World Medical Mission Serves  The ministry and mission of World Medical Mission are rooted in twin truths drawn from Luke 10:9 “Heal the sick who are there, and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near you.'"   Through short-term missions and other evangelistic endeavors, World Medical Mission seeks to promote the physical healing of those who are sick and suffering around the world, especially in underserved regions. However, medical healing is only part of the Luke 10 equation. They also seek intentional opportunities to share the gospel with individuals who need to hear it. They strive to let people know about the Great Physician and the kingdom of God that He has established. Through medical treatment and evangelism, World Medical Mission is able to treat the whole person. To fulfill this mission, World Medical Missions works through hospitals and clinics in several regions. These areas include Central and South America, Asia and the Pacific Rim, Europe, and the Middle East. In addition to matching medical professionals with short-term mission opportunities, the organization also provides a post-residency for individuals who are called to vocational medical missions. World Medical Missions also sponsors what are called "surgical subspecialty teams." Recognizing that many places in the world do not have access to quality surgical options, the subspeciality teams offer individuals the chance to have basic operations that can improve their quality of life and, in many cases, extend their lives. Surgeons also provide training to local medical professionals and may even provide mission hospitals with the equipment needed to strengthen their surgical services. Finally, World Medical Missions maintains a website called the International Health Forum. This site serves as an information clearinghouse for professionals and students who are interested in any number of medical missions endeavors. The webinars cover a variety of topics, which are categorized for easy access.   Why Mission Organizations Like This Matter The Ministry of World Medical Mission focuses on three primary tasks:   Sharing the Gospel. As noted, the medical services provided are a gateway to meeting the biggest need in people's lives. The gospel stands at the center of everything World Medical Mission does.   Support overworked staff. In mission hospitals and clinics around the world, demand usually exceeds supply. Short staffs mean long hours under difficult working conditions. The presence of short-term medical missionaries can provide relief to these overworked individuals.   Train future leaders. As with any mission endeavor, raising indigenous leaders is a key to effective ministry. Medical missions is no different. Along with providing extra sets of hands and feet, the volunteers who work with World Medical Mission also serve local medical professionals, helping them grow in their skills and become better practitioners for their patients.     Discover Medical Missions. Medical Missions serves to 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.
10 Long Term Mission Opportunities
God calls missionaries to fill different roles in different contexts. Some might be called to medical missions, while others share the gospel through church planting or marketplace ministry. There are many roles of a missionary, some might pursue short-term missions with several trips over a lifetime, while others embrace long-term mission opportunities. If you feel like God is moving you toward long-term missions, you’ve got a lot to think about and a lot to plan. Short-term missionaries often have the trips planned out for them and follow the agenda for a given adventure. But long-term mission opportunities mean investing large portions of your life in the nation you choose. You also must consider things like finances and insurance. But the biggest challenge you face is identifying a mission-sending organization that best fits your needs.   Keys to Identifying Sending Agencies Let’s be honest, there is no shortage of sending agencies that provide long-term mission opportunities. And that’s a good thing. God is using many organizations to help individuals realize their calling to missions and to fulfill the Great Commission.    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   Matthew 28:19   But the sheer number of agencies does present a challenge as you prayerfully examine your choices. The list of important questions to answer as you look at long-term mission opportunities include things like: • Does the agency align with your theology and philosophy of missions? • What training does the agency offer long-term missionaries? • What role does the agency play in financial support? • What additional support (financial, insurance, mental health, furloughs, and so forth) does the agency provide? • What are the expenses you will need to cover? • What nations does the agency serve? • What kind of reputation does the agency have in the long-term missions community? As you can see, finding your best fit for long-term mission opportunities requires a lot of time and a lot of research. But, through some solid research and a lot of prayer, you can find a long-term mission adventure that will place you in the sweet spot of God’s call on your life.     10 Long-Term Mission Opportunities Available to You   As mentioned, you have a lot of options for long-term missions. To help you get started, we’ve listed 10 agencies that can point you in the right direction. These agencies aren’t the only ones sponsoring long-term missionaries, but they have stood the test of time and are faithfully working to fulfill the Great Commission.    1. CRU. Founded in 1951 as Campus Crusade for Christ, CRU shares the gospel in nearly 200 countries around the world. CRU teams seek to establish common ground with local residents through things like sports, media, humanitarian aid, and more.    2. Adventures in Missions. Missionaries serving in long-term opportunities have the chance to immerse themselves in the culture, which helps them earn a hearing. Adventures in Missions challenges Christ followers to make those necessary connections on the field as marketplace missionaries. Founded in 1989, Adventures in Missions has placed more than 125,000 missionaries in short-term and long-term opportunities over the years.   3. Word of Life. Word of Life has been sending missionaries on long-term mission opportunities around the globe for some eight decades. At present, more than 1,500 Word of Life missionaries serve in 70 different countries. The career opportunities are diverse, including Bible clubs, education, and camps.   4. Team. For more than 130 years, Team has worked to fulfill the Great Commission by offering long-term mission opportunities. Since its inception in 1891, Team has moved from a narrow focus on a couple of areas to an expansion around the world. Today, it’s network includes more than 500 missionaries and some 2,000 churches. Team provides numerous long-term options, including medical and health care missions.   5. Samaritan’s Purse. Through its World Medical Mission teams, Samaritan’s Purse has been supporting the work of overseas hospitals and clinics since 1977. In addition to providing supplies and technical support, World Medical Mission also sends missionaries to serve in medical settings around the world.   6. Operation Mobilization. For more than 50 years, Operation Mobilization (OM) has carried the message of Jesus to men, women, and children across the globe. OM currently sponsors nearly 7,000 individuals in 188 nations. Some serve in remote areas, while others work in large, urban centers. Many even serve on OM ships, stopping at a variety of ports around the world.   7. Pioneers. Pioneers has been pursuing its passion to plant churches among the least-reached people groups in the world since 1979. These days, Pioneers has more than 2,800 missionaries ministering in many different arenas, including community health. The group’s goal is to use an individual’s personal calling and strengths to determine which long-term mission opportunity best fits their situation.   8. Equip International. Founded in 1996, Equip International strives to spread the gospel through community improvement. For example, the organization’s long-term opportunities include medical programs like Community Health Evangelism, Missionary Medicine Intensive, and Missionary Medicine for Physicians. In these settings, a missionary might serve as a medical professional in an underserved area or support a local physician who has limited training and experience. The key is empowering the community, while sharing the gospel and promoting discipleship through everyday interactions.   9. Frontiers. Frontiers began its work in 1982 and focuses its ministry on training and sending field workers to Muslim nations in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. By meeting the physical and medical needs of individuals, long-term missionaries can speak into their spiritual needs. In addition, such medical missionaries have the potential of reaching nations that are closed to more traditional workers.   10. SIM (Sudan Interior Mission) Founded in 1893 as Sudan Interior Mission, SIM provides international missions with an international flavor. The roughly 4,000 missionaries now serving with SIM come from more than 70 different nations. In addition, this diverse group of leaders ministers in a wide variety of missions settings.     Other Mission Options for Long-Term Missionaries If you’re still looking for ways to hear God’s voice regarding long-term mission opportunities, we have two more suggestions. First, check out your denomination’s sending organizations. For example, the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board each serve the Southern Baptist Convention. Your denomination may have similar sending agencies. Also, you can attend mission conferences, such as the Global Health Missions Conference. At these events, you can learn more about what it means to be a missionary, connect with missionary-sending agencies, and network with long-term missionaries already on the field. If God has called you to embrace long-term mission opportunities, He will guide you and equip you. Prayerfully see where He is leading and follow His directions. Your life will never be the same!     Discover Medical Missions. Medical Missions serves to 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.