Competency: What Kind of Qualifications Do I Need to Become a Missionary?

The 4 C’s: Calling, Character, Chemistry, Competency

Article by Daniel Topf, PhD

In a way, none of us is qualified to do God’s work, be it at home or overseas. Serving the Lord, especially in a fulltime capacity, is a tremendous privilege and a sacred responsibility, something that we are only able to do by God’s grace. Writing as an apostle, Paul affirmed in 2 Cor. 3:5 that “our competence comes from God” (NIV). At the same time, there are certain qualities that will help you to become a better cross-cultural worker, as we will highlight in the following.

Being Realistic Regarding One’s Expectations

“Once you have committed to something, develop the habit of seeing things through, because being able to persevere in the midst of adversity will make a real difference for you and others on the mission field.”

Mission work is hard work, and it’s important to manage one’s expectations. It is highly unlikely that someone who has just arrived on the mission field will suddenly witness a mighty revival or oversee numerous successful church plants during their first few years of ministry. Realistically speaking, it takes several years to become familiar with a country’s language and culture, and progress is often slow when trying to win others to Christ.1 In addition, it is also crucial for missionaries to manage their expectations with regards to challenges in their new environment, such as related to areas like food, the climate, health care, relationships with other believers, educational opportunities for their children, etc.


Given the challenges just mentioned, cross-cultural workers must learn how to persevere. In fact, perseverance is a character trait and an ability you can develop right now, wherever you are. Are you the kind of person who hangs in there when the going gets tough? Or are you tempted to throw in the towel? Once you have committed to something, develop the habit of seeing things through, because being able to persevere in the midst of adversity will make a real difference for you and others on the mission field.

Respect for Other Cultures and Ethnic Groups

It is natural for us as humans to gravitate toward people who look like us, or have similar experiences and views like us. As the popular saying goes, “birds of a feather flock together.” However, as missionaries we need to make an intentional effort to connect with people who are different from us. A good starting point is to develop a genuine respect for other cultures and ethnic groups, and to train ourselves to reach out to people who have a different worldview. At World Team, we emphasize living with the people we are ministering to, learning the language(s) of our hosts, and understanding their culture – all this is part of incarnational living, which is of one of our Guiding Principles.

Flexibility and Tolerance for Ambiguity

In a cross-cultural environment, there will always be surprises, uncertainties, and unexpected turns of events. In such a context, it is critical to stay flexible and to grow in tolerance for ambiguity. Our example here is Jesus Christ, who humbled himself and demonstrated servant leadership whenever he ministered to the people around him.2

Skills in Evangelism and Discipleships

World Team missionaries often serve in a variety of professional capacities, for example by working as teachers, nurses, and accountants. However, all of them are part of a church-planting team and as such they devote a considerable portion of their time and energy to evangelism and discipleship.3 Knowing how to share the gospel with another person and being willing and able to disciple others are therefore important qualifications for anyone who wants to become a missionary.

Points to Think and Talk About

  • Describe what you think your first three years in another country would be like.
  • How have your perspectives of church and missions changed after traveling overseas?
  • Describe your strengths and weaknesses (your level of self-awareness).
  • Think of a time when you had to be a ‘self-starter’ – what was that like?
  • Give an example of a situation where you failed and what you learned from it.
  • Consider how your friends are different from you (for instance, with regards to their ethnicity or belief systems) and what you have learned from them.
  • Describe a situation when you experienced a sudden change in plans. How did you handle it?
  • Please share about a time when you were totally clueless about what to expect or do (e.g., at a party where you did not know anyone; a new job without a clearly defined role; in the middle of an unfamiliar city). How did you resolve the uncertainty?
  • How do you share your faith with neighbors, family, and coworkers? Think through a time you shared your faith; what were the results?
  • Who have you discipled? When? For how long?

Endnotes / Suggestions for Further Reading

  • 1 For more thoughts on the topic of expectations, see Ronald L. Koteskey, “What Missionaries Ought to Know about Expectations” (
  • 2 Humility will have to be a key component when ministering in such an environment, as also emphasized by Duane Elmer, Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006).
  • 3 Evangelism, discipleship, leadership development, and multiplication are the four foundational elements that undergird World Team’s church-planting efforts. A great opportunity to be trained in these four areas is during our 1-week event called RACE (Reciprocal Assessment & Candidate Evaluation).