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10 Reasons Why You Should (and Shouldn’t) Be a Missionary

It’s not hard to come up with reasons to steer clear of the overseas missionary life. Cross-cultural missions can be uncomfortable, risky and full of unknowns. In his 19 years of ministry, Rodney Pennington, OMF (U.S.) Vice President for Mobilization and former missionary to Thailand, has heard a lot of people explain why global missions isn’t for them. While some of these excuses can sound compelling, there’s another perspective to consider.

Below, Rodney lays out 10 reasons people pass on the missionary life, and 10 reasons why cross-cultural missions work is an option you should definitely consider.

1. Learning to live in a new culture

Why you shouldn’t be a missionary:

It is often much easier to live in the culture we were born in, and changing cultures is probably too difficult and uncalled for. Think about it—if God wanted us to live in another country with a different culture then why were we not just born there?

Why you should be a missionary:

It is true that living in a new culture can be incredibly stressful. However, it’s also enriching as you experience the joys of cross-cultural work and get to see the diversity God created in humanity. Throughout scripture you will find God sending his messengers of truth into new cultures (Abraham, Joseph, Daniel, Peter, Paul). It was never easy, but God has always desired to reach the nations through his children (Psalm 67).

2. Learning a new language

Why you shouldn’t be a missionary:

Learning a new language can be very hard, stressful, time-consuming etc. Is it really worth it? It’s a lot easier to just stay where we are and not deal with the challenges of learning someone else’s language.

Why you should be a missionary:

The time, energy and stress that comes with learning a new language can be quite draining. However, it is a time-proven gift for those willing to take on such a task. Learning a new language enables you to build deep relationships with people as you communicate God’s truth in words they understand. Think about it: we love to hear God’s word in our language, don’t we? Why would it be any different for others?

3. Giving up comforts

Why you shouldn’t be a missionary:

Why give up comforts? Being able to watch our favorite sports programs and TV shows, go to movies and eat our favorite foods, surf the Internet, shop at our favorite stores etc. Is the sacrifice really worth it? Now, there are places out there that have a lot of those same comforts we have in our own backyards, but it’s never really the same.

Why you should be a missionary:

Throughout much of the world, the true god of our lives can be found in our comforts—things like sports, TV, surfing the Internet or new toys. Comforts are not necessarily bad things. However, when they replace the joy, excitement, time and sacrifice that we have for God, they become the real god of our lives.

Jesus himself didn’t live in what most of us would call a “comfort zone” (Isa. 53; Luke 9:58), nor did his disciples or the early church. They learned a great lesson about trusting in God and finding where true comfort, love and purpose come from (Phil. 2:1-4).

4. Living on support

Why you shouldn’t be a missionary:

Having job stability isn’t a sure thing no matter where you live this day and age, but having to trust in people to send monthly support so our family can get by … that’s just crazy! Staying home ensures that if something should go wrong, I still have opportunities to make a living. That’s just being responsible. Would God really want people depending on an uncertain paycheck?

Why you should be a missionary:

Many Christians would say that they want to serve God, but support raising … no thanks. Truth is, support raising is difficult and it doesn’t get any easier. But there is truly something special about learning to place your wholehearted trust in God for your daily needs and watching how he provides.

Not to mention that raising financial support for ministry work has a biblical foundation. The apostle Paul had no problem asking the church to fund his work, even as he trusted God to meet his every need (Rom. 15:24; 2 Cor. 8:1-5; Gal. 6:10).

5. Meeting your community’s needs

Why you shouldn’t be a missionary:

If we send people out on mission then it is going to cost a lot money that could be better used in our own backyards. How many of our churches need bigger buildings to make room for growth? Or what about investing in our own city and helping the poor or reaching out to the marginalized? Our local needs outweigh the benefit of sending missionaries overseas.

Why you should be a missionary:

Yes, there are many needs in our own backyards that are not being met. Christians would do well to address them. However, are our own needs greater than those in a foreign land? When did Christ ever teach us to focus on our own needs, desires, longings or really anything that isn’t driven first by the will of God?

Of the $700 billion given to Christian causes worldwide every year, 96.8 percent goes to the local church, 2.9 percent is used for home missions in the same Christian nation and 0.3 percent is spent going to unevangelized non-Christian people. Even less (0.06 percent) goes toward the unreached.1 We need to address this imbalance and recognize that God desires for BOTH our local and global communities to hear the gospel.

6. Family and friends

Why you shouldn’t be a missionary:

Why in the world would we want to say goodbye to our family and friends? There are few things better in this world than having a great family and trusting friends in your life. God wouldn’t want anyone to give this up, would he?

Why you should be a missionary:

What greater call for celebration than lives being radically changed by the Holy Spirit and lived out faithfully no matter where that might take them? Leaving our family and friends or giving our children over to the will of God isn’t easy and never will be. However, God is great and he promises to bless us through the sacrifices we offer before his throne. Trust in God’s will and his alone.

7. Time

Why you shouldn’t be a missionary:

With all the time it takes to keep up with work, pay off our current expenses (education, house, car etc.), save up for retirement, take care of our family and friends, teach Sunday school and all the other things that are running our lives, there just isn’t time.

Why you should be a missionary:

Imagine sitting in church and suddenly hearing the voice of God saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then what? Does everyone in the room sit there quietly, thinking they don’t have the time? Maybe some start volunteering that one “radical” in the congregation because he or she doesn’t quite “fit in.” Maybe people start saying, “First, let me go and _______________” (Matt. 8:21) or find they can’t give up their possessions (Matt. 19:21-22).

Our time on earth is limited. How great is it for those who say “Here am I, send me,” and then go out and spend their time as though it really belongs to God?

8. Are missionaries needed anymore?

Why you shouldn’t be a missionary:

The world must have the gospel by now. The gospel is all over the place as we watch TV, listen to the radio and even drive to work where we pass several churches. People can hear about Jesus from street preachers, Christian outreach organizations throughout the city and small group meetings during the week. We can see God everywhere. This must be the same all over the world.

Why you should be a missionary:

Unreached people groups, which are populations with less than 2 percent evangelical Christian witness, make up 42.2 percent of the world’s population (3.11 billion people).1 Many of us forget that there was a time when our own countries and people were without the truth of Christ. We are so used to the blessing of having the gospel abundantly available to us on TV, the radio and weekly church meetings. But this reality doesn’t exist for billions around the world.
The Apostle Paul once asked some important questions that the church must continue to ask and answer to this day such as, “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?” (Rom. 10:14-15).

9. Living with risk, trials or persecution

Why you shouldn’t be a missionary:

The world is filled with dangers and this isn’t a trait of the Christian faith. God wouldn’t want his followers to give up so much and take risks that might include getting some strange jungle disease, being arrested or possibly even losing our lives. Sorry, but that’s not how God works.

Why you should be a missionary:

Risk is a part of everyone’s life. For the Christian, risk, trials and persecution should be expected from time to time. The Bible tells us that people will insult us and that persecution will come (Matt.5:11; 24:9) and that the cost of discipleship is great (Luke 9:23-26). However, the Bible also promises that God’s children will be looked after and that he has a great plan for all who follow his ways (Jer. 29:11; Matt. 11:28-29; Phil. 4:19).

10. Matthew 28:18-20

Why you shouldn’t be a missionary:
This is always used as the reason for missions and it’s old school thinking and a worn-out argument from the radical few. Okay, maybe there are some places where missionaries are needed because of the orphans, widows and social unrest, but that’s for those few missionaries and surely not for everyone. Not all Christians are called to be missionaries.

Why you should be a missionary:
If the final commandment of the one whom Christians call the Lord and Savior of the world was to “go and make disciples of all nations,” don’t you think that should be a high priority within the church?

It’s true that not everyone is going to serve in a foreign land, but all are called to be a part of the Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:18-20).

1 Statistics taken from

Rodney Pennington

Rodney has been with OMF for 11 years serving in both Thailand and in the U.S. Currently, Rodney is serving as the Vice President for Mobilization with the OMF (U.S.) homeside team. He enjoys spending time with his family and friends, reading, fishing, teaching and preaching, and mobilizing the next generation of missionaries for reaching the unreached peoples of East Asia.

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