I have often said that if I could give a million dollars towards global missions, it would dedicate it to figuring out who will flourish overseas and stay the long haul, and who will return earlier than expected. The stakes are incredibly high in global sending. The positive effects a quality Sent One can have on a people, a team, and themselves is incredible. Conversely, the negative effects a Sent One can have on people, a team, and themselves can be equally destructive.
As leaders in sending, we have an important responsibility to identify, assess, develop, and care for those we send. A first step towards sending well is to understand the important characteristics of a Sent One and find ways to discover whether or not those characteristics are true of the person looking to go.
The following is a list of questions and qualities that I have gathered in my time as a missions pastor and mobilizer. I have asked many others in mobilization for the top qualities they see in people who are successful overseas. I can say, with certainty, that each of the questions asked has at one time or another raised a yellow or red flag for a potential Sent One, or been constructive for them to ponder.
This list is not exhaustive. It does not include a lot of “permission to play” values like reading their Bible, prayer, strong moral character, good theology, being a good parent, being a good leader, etc. These are qualities you would want in any Christian. While you want to make sure those qualities are present, there are qualities that are particularly important in those who live, work, and minister in the high-stress environment of living cross-culturally.
A first step towards sending well is to understand the important characteristics of a Sent One and find ways to discover whether or not those characteristics are true of the person looking to go.
1) Clear & Affirmed Calling
Why do you feel led from Scripture, from your passions, giftings, and opportunity, and from others to go overseas?
2) Ability to Suffer & Experience Hardship
What is your framework for how you deal with suffering and hardship? Give an example.
3) Grit: Faithfulness, Initiative, Risk, & Resilience
When was a time that ministry was hard? How did you respond?
4) Rhythms of Personal Evangelism Cross-Culturally
What are your rhythms of making friends with those of different cultures and sharing the gospel with them?
5) Family of Origin & Relationships
Do you have any tension in your current relationships or unresolved tension from past relationships?
6) Emotional Health during Stress
What tends to stress you out? Why?
7) Transitioning from Stateside to Fieldside
What will be hard about leaving the U.S. to head to the field?
Is the way others describe you similar to how you would describe yourself?
How do you feel when the path forward in ministry is gray rather than black and white?
10) Living within Limits
Can you give an example of when you have said no to a good thing? Is this hard for you or easy?
What feelings do you experience when plans change or when directions are a little unclear?
How would you describe your level of independence and responsibility?
13) View of God
How would you describe your view of God? How do you personally and individually see him?
14) Spiritual Habits, Disciplines, & Interaction with God
Have you ever gone through a dry season in your relationship with God? If so, what did you do to sustain yourself spiritually during this time?
15) Physical Health
What physical limitations do you have that would keep you from thriving in a warm climate?
At the end of the day, we aren’t going to get sending 100 percent right. However, we can use our intellect and our intuition to help guide people on the path towards (or away from) overseas ministry in a way that is healthy to them. The Holy Spirit does the calling, and the church is often the complementary voice in the life of the believer to give them clarity, conviction, and confirmation of that calling. Let’s do this work to the utmost of our abilities.
You can also check out our Forum topic What qualities for overseas readiness do you look for in sending? to share your thoughts on what qualities are needed in those going overseas.
Mike Ironside is the International Program Manager for Reliant Mission. Prior to that Mike was the Missions Pastor at Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa, for eight years, where he got to experience the ins and outs of being a sending church. He served on staff with Cornerstone 2006 to 2022 in varying roles–from college ministry to pastoral staff to being an overseas missionary sent from Cornerstone for two years. Mike is the Director of Content for the Upstream Collective. Mike, his wife, Emily, and their four kids continue to live in Ames, IA, and serve at Cornerstone.