ArticleChurch Life & Ministry

Joining a Missionary Team—What Questions Should You Be asking?

Before deciding on a missions agency or field team, there are six critical questions to explore.
The team that you join on the mission field will have a huge impact on the strategy you employ, your relationship with nationals, and your ability to thrive long-term.

What type of questions should new missionaries ask potential team leaders as they prayerfully discern where the Lord is leading them to serve?

As a team strategy leader for families and singles in both Africa and South Asia for seventeen years, my wife and I have been encouraged (and at times disheartened) by what prospective missionaries asked. Questions reveal our hearts, what we care about, and what we find most important. Not sure what it reveals about my heart, but one of my first questions was how much peanut butter should I bring in my luggage when arriving to Zambia in 2002.

If I were starting my own missionary journey again, here are some categories with corresponding questions I would want to ask a potential team leader. And as a team leader, I would want to be ready to answer these questions from prospective team members.

1. Relationship with nationals

  • Tell me about your national partners and how the team works with them.
  • Do local churches own the vision of getting the gospel to unreached peoples and places?
  • How do you work with and train believers in the evangelism, discipleship, and church planting?
  • What do you believe national Christians need the most from your missionary team? How have nationals expressed this need to you?
  • What is the history of relationships between your sending agency/team and local churches, believers, and organizations?

2. Strategy and Methodology

  • If the team succeeds in the next 5-10 years, what would that success look like?
  • What are your key beliefs about how to impact local communities with the gospel?
  • What are some methods that team members should not use or embrace?
  • Tell me about the people and places you are trying to reach?
  • What are some of the challenges and successes of your work?
  • Can you share your strategy plan and overall team goals with me?

3. Culture and Language

  • How much time will I have to learn the language and culture? What will that look like?
  • Are current team members able to converse in the local language?
  • Will I be expected to reach a certain language proficiency before beginning full-time ministry?
  • What are some things about the culture that will either encourage or challenge me?
  • For nationals, what does it mean to be a good friend? How do you make friends?
  • What are some things that you wish you knew about the culture before you first arrived?

4. Finances

  • How does the team use finances to support local ministry, believers, churches?
  • What are some healthy and unhealthy practices that you have seen?
  • How does the team allocate money for ministry and strategy?
  • Does the team have any national leaders who they directly support financially?

5. My specific work and role on team

  • What will my role and work on the team look like?
  • Will there be someone to mentor and model my assignment? For how long?
  • How much freedom will I have to develop relationships and ministry opportunities versus what might be assigned?
  • Has anyone ever done the role I am being asked to fill before? Anyone on another team?
  • What excites you about someone filling this role on the team?
  • What obstacles might I face if I accept this position?
  • Will I need to have a business or other platform? What will be my legal reason for being in the country?

6. Team dynamics, communication

  • How often should I expect to see other team members and meet with my supervisor?
  • What do team meetings look like? Is it more strategy, personal, or devotional?
  • Are national believers a part of the team or meet with the team?
  • Do team members get together for holidays or mainly for work?
  • Without giving specifics, what was the general reason for the last team conflict? How was it resolved?
  • How would you describe the relationships and dynamics between team members?
  • Do team members all participate in a local church? Different churches?
  • What is your (team leader) leadership style?

In my experience, successful first term missionaries are humble, listen well, and desire to learn. Good questions provide a helpful tool to exercise these attitudes and skills. Joining a team means you are willing to apprentice under the team leader and learn from the team’s experience and convictions. Asking questions and listening to answers can help new missionaries gain confidence and respect for those who will guide their cross-cultural transition and ministry. I pray these questions serve you well as you prayerfully consider where God may have you join in his mission to the nations.

About the Author

Joshua Bowman holds a Ph.D. in Missiology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is Assistant Professor of Missions and Theology at Cedarville University. He served with his wife Amy and their four children in Zambia and South Asia with the International Mission Board for seventeen years as a church planter, church strengthening strategist, and team leader.

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