“What kind of characteristics do I need as a missionary?”

Reading Time: 6 minutes
It might come to mind as you’re taping another box shut, or when you’re about to pass one of those points-of-no-return: Selling your house. Selling your wheels for pennies on the dollar. You might think, Well. If I go over there and bite it big time, this is going to be pretty embarrassing. Not to mention expensive. Do I have the characteristics it takes?”

(If you haven’t thought that? Just ignore those last two paragraphs.)

And here’s the reality: Some global workers come back earlier than they planned.

A lot of times, there are really, really good reasons.

(Note: “I came back” in no way equals “I am a sellout.” In modern times, a lot more types of people and families are able to go overseas for seasons that work for circumstances in their lives. It also means the mission field is more transitory. This is okay.)

But obviously, your preference would be that for whatever amount of time you are overseas, you do a lot more than survive. And you don’t inflict damage, right? You’re ready as an ambassador of Jesus; for people to follow you as they follow Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). You long to Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).

So what are some of the telling signs you’ve got characteristics to lead others overseas?

You need Characteristics like Emotional stability. spiritual gifts. Interpersonal skills. maturity.

This article “Qualities of Effective Missionaries,” offers a lot of great elaboration.

Why emotional stability? Because the demands of cross-cultural living are high. They’re stressful. The occasion for trauma also increases significantly. (See our post, Why to Consider Counseling Before You Head Overseas, and Help Your Marriage Thrive Overseas! Part II.)

Without resilience, the opportunity increases exponentially for serious wounds to your faith and your heart–amplified in your ministry. Overseas resources in an already-taxed ministry team could be diverted–as it should at times (they’ll know we’re his disciples by how we love one another), but a tricky long-term dilemma.
Remember: Your goal is to present those to whom you minister as mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28). From the article:
Missionaries must be people who are on their knees before God in prayer, whose worship acknowledges Jehovah as God and who study the Bible not only to prepare sermons and lessons but also to reflect upon God’s will in their own lives. Missionaries must have an intimate relationship with God, which influences who they are and how they relate to others. They are increasingly transformed into God’s likeness as they look upon Him (2 Cor. 3:18). 
So let’s allow other global workers to weigh in.


“Being teachable has been identified one of the top traits of successful missionaries. But how do you discern if someone has that trait? Or, more to the point, if you do? What does it look like, feel like, and sound like? Here are some questions to ask:

1. Seeking input.

How much do you value the input of others? Do you seek advice from people? If you don’t seek out the perspectives of others, it implies you don’t see a need for them or a value in them. If you don’t value the opinions and perspectives of others, you won’t receive instruction, input, or correction from them.

2. Admitting faults.

How easily do acknowledge that you were wrong? The more you’re committed to being right, the less you can hear perspectives from others.

3. Honoring others.

How easily do you praise others? Seems to me that people who freely praise others easily receive comments and critiques from others.

4. Receiving correction.

How do you respond when someone corrects you, or corrects something you say? Is your first instinct defensive? Are you puzzled as to why they think another way is better? Or do you listen, make sure you understand, and thank them?

“Falling short in these areas? Good news: it’s never too early or too late to grow. Everyone’s life includes opportunities to practice these behaviors, and as you practice them, they’ll become more natural to you.”

-David, who served with OC International for twenty years in Colombia, Guatemala, and the US and currently serves with Mission Data International.

strong character

prepared to rely on God’s strength to do what others can’t or won’t do.

“Read Hebrews chapter 11 lately? When we read about the “heroes of the faith” in this famous text, men and women known for great exploits, we’re disposed to view them as “super” and ourselves “average.” It’s the easiest thing in the world to think they were extraordinary and we are ordinary. They were special, and we are not. That any comparison is like chalk and cheese. Enoch, Abraham, Rahab, Joseph, Moses, widows, martyrs. People of whom the world was not worthy.

“But then we come across a clause in verse 34 that casts a whole new light on these champions of the past: ‘Out of weakness they were made strong.’

“They were as weak, broken, vulnerable, sinful, and, well, as ordinary as the rest of us. Which is precisely what qualified them, and qualifies people today, to take the message of Jesus to other parts of the world. They don’t rely on their own strength. On the contrary, they are weak-made-strong followers of Jesus. And they are marked by the following:

1. Faith.

They’ve personally experienced the transforming work of the gospel and can’t keep this news to themselves. It’s too precious! They know Jesus and want others to know him too.

Half-hearted isn’t one of their characteristics! They would give their lives so that others might live. Such is their faith in God.

2. Teachability.

These are not people who think they have “arrived” in terms of what they know or how great they are. They don’t think they have nothing more to learn.

Rather, they crave new learning opportunities, seek out mentors, depend on others, and ask advice.

3. Humility.

Good cross-cultural workers recognize that they no longer belong to themselves but to Jesus, and, as such, there’s a humility about them.

They have the characteristics to do what others won’t or can’t do, and they don’t need the credit for it. They deflect praise when people commend them for “being so sacrificial” and absorb criticism when people think they’re crazy.

4. Effectiveness.

I’m talking people with a spiritual track record, familiarity with the Bible, and a rep for hard work.

They understand that if they are not sharing Jesus with people here, it’s unlikely they will share Jesus with people somewhere else in the world!

Leaders at their churches recognize characteristics indicating God has wired them for mission.

5. Availability.

They’re not just willing to go and serve elsewhere. They’re preparing to go! Their prayer is ‘Here I am Lord. Send me!”

They understand life offers them countless options, but, weighing it up, and risking criticism, they prioritize mission.

6. Weakness.

The people who make good cross-cultural workers are qualified by their weakness, knowing their strength is in Christ. That’s how it works in God’s kingdom; we are not disqualified by our weakness, but by our subtle resistance to God’s will in our lives. What qualifies us for service in the kingdom of God is as Hudson Taylor, missionary to China put it: ‘God was looking for a man weak enough to use, and he found me.'”

-Simon, who serves as National Director of Pioneers Australia. This answer slightly adapted from a blog post on the website of Pioneers Australia.

God is able to make you into all you need to be.

“The only required characteristics for being a missionary is that you have complete and utter faith in the Lord. God does not choose the equipped. He equips the chosen.

“He has changed me daily since I have became a missionary. I wasn’t anywhere I should be when I started. But as what God has asked of me has changed, I have changed as well. It is only because I allowed him to work. It is nothing I could have done on my own. It’s 100% because of him.

“God is able to make you into you need to be. All you have to do is say yes!”

-Emily in South Carolina, who has served with Salvation Ministries for four years, including service in Mali and Uganda.


Like this post on needed characteristics for heading overseas?

You might like

Headed Overseas? 5 Character Potholes to Steer around

He Said/She Said. You Say? “How can I know if God’s calling/leading me overseas?” Part I and Part II

Why to Consider Counseling Before You Head Overseas



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.