5 Traits Successful Missionaries Have in Common

There are all sorts of qualities the most successful missionaries have in common, many of which relate to character, discipline, theological conviction, and things of that sort. But those characteristics really mark any mature Christian believer, not just missionaries. There are other traits of missionaries, more practical in nature, that almost every one of them seems to share.

You could even call these the ‘metrics’ of missionaries, and in our experience, we have identified five such metrics. The process of acquiring these five traits will shape your heart and position your life for God to call you into something you never would have otherwise known or imagined.

If you have a heart to reach the lost, in this nation or any other part of the world, and believe God is calling you to actually go to them in person and devote your life to this, begin today to work on building the five traits listed below into your walk with God.

1. Go on a Short Term Mission Project

Just about every long-term missionary first stepped into the field on a short-term mission project. And though many take this step in their younger years, it certainly does not have to be that way. The experience and wisdom brought by people of all ages are what make short-term mission trips so effective – for the team and for the people being ministered to.

Many organizations offer short-term mission trip opportunities. Here are a few:

  • Mission Guide – Offers an easy search tool for all sorts of mission trips
  • Experience Mission – Runs recurring programs to select locations – all about a week long
  • Cru – Focuses on trips for high school and college students, as well as families
  • Mission Finder – another search tool with mission trips around the world
  • World Race – Offers global trips several months or a full year in duration – ideal for young people looking to take a gap year

 If you want to take a short-term mission trip, there is no shortage of opportunity. All it takes is a decision, some investigation, and a little planning, and you’ll be on your way to gaining one of the five key traits of missionaries.

 Why does this work? Because long-term missions are not for everyone. Short-term trips give you an idea of what life is like in the mission field. You’ll be tested in new ways. You’ll discover strengths and gifts, as well as areas where you need to grow.

On a short-term mission trip, you’ll probably learn more about yourself in just a week or two than you’ve learned in the past decade.

2. Read a Missionary Biography

This missionary characteristic can be developed without leaving your couch. But what a couch experience it can be. Go grab a book telling the story of a famous missionary, or a not-so-famous one, and your walk with God will be affected forever. You’ll see what real people have done for God’s kingdom, what they gained, what it cost them, and how God supported them.

Great ones to start with include Peace Child, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, Gladys Aylward: The Little Woman, Shadow of the Almighty (about Jim and Elisabeth Elliot), Eric Liddell (the runner from the movie Chariots of Fire), and George Muller.

Here’s a list of more great missionary biographies

And here are some that are great for younger readers

3. Attend a Mission-Focused Event 

Before traveling to the mission field, travel to a missions conference. Why do most missionaries today have this trait in common? Because attending a missions conference will do more than just open your eyes to how much need is out there.

You’ll meet people who have gone on missions themselves. You can talk to them, hear their stories, learn from their experiences, and get ideas. And God moves mightily in places where his people gather to focus on reaching the world for Jesus. You can be confident the Holy Spirit will speak to your heart at one of these conferences.

Being in a place filled with believers who are willing to give up portions of their own lives to go on mission for Jesus transports you out of the normal life, and gives you a new perspective. You will see the world with a new set of eyes. Some who attend these conferences are changed forever.

A few good choices for conferences include:

  • Urbana – probably the biggest conference in the US – meets in Illinois
  • Missions Fest – Meets in Washington state

4. Spend Time with a Missionary in Person 

This one may turn out to be the most difficult missionary trait to acquire. We’re not talking about going to a conference and having a short conversation with someone who works in the mission field.

This fourth trait of missionaries is about quality time spent with another missionary, as in days, not just a couple hours. The best way to achieve this is to find a way to host a missionary in your home. Perhaps your church has a missions program, and occasionally the missionaries return and need a place to stay.

Go to your pastor and make it clear you want to host them the next time a missionary comes and needs a place to stay.

Why do this? Because you’ll get to have conversations that are far outside the norm. You’ll get to see how this person views the world, how they live day to day, how modern concerns and stresses affect them compared to most other people, and what drives them.

This person doesn’t have a typical 9 to 5 job. You’ll likely also discover that, in spite of what the missionary biographies might sometimes imply, most missions work isn’t filled with nonstop miracles and breakthroughs.

Talking with a real missionary will give you a realistic glimpse into what it’s like to live as a missionary.

Another way to meet a missionary is to find one you can support through prayer or finances. Get on their prayer or newsletter email list. But don’t just wait for their emails and remain distant. Be proactive – reply and ask how you can help them. Ask about their prayer needs.

By making a personal connection even over email, when that person does come to town, they will certainly want to meet with you in person. Same with giving them monthly financial support. 

Here’s a trustworthy place you can connect with a Missionary Mentor. All you have to do is click and send a text, and a loving missionary will listen to you about what God is doing in your life and pray with you. Pray the Lord of the Harvest to raise up laborers.

5. Study the Biblical Basis and Mandate for Missions

Of the five traits of missionaries on this list, this is the one that isn’t time-bound. Begin studying your Bible. Let’s start there. If you aren’t in the habit of reading your Bible regularly, that’s step one. You must know your Word.

 More importantly, in addition to basic Christian theology, you need a deep understanding of God’s heart for the nations, and what the Bible has to say about that. The Great Commission at the end of Matthew 28 is the most well-known verse about making disciples of all nations, but many other parts of the Bible in both Old and New Testament speak strongly to God’s call to spread the good news.

To get you started, here are five verses about God’s heart for the nations, which has been part of His plan since the very beginning.

And here are ten verses from Jesus in the gospels that speak to his plan to save the world from sin and bring them into his family.

Are You Interested in Becoming a Missionary?

 The world is a big place, and the need for God’s love is vast and overwhelming. No single person can come close to meeting all the needs. But each of us can play a part, and God wants everyone involved in some form.

For some of us, that means actually going into the mission field. If you sense God leading you in that direction, start orienting your life so you can acquire the five traits of missionaries. By the time you’ve checked these five items off your list, you will be a very different person.

And very likely, you’ll feel called by God to do something, go somewhere, or change the direction you had intended for your life. For some, that will mean entering the long-term missions field.

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