Are you Succeeding As a Missionary?

by Chris Lautsbaugh on November 26, 2012

Missionary success is difficult to measure. People are our job, so what is the measuring stick of success?

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While it is nice (and often true) to say if one person believes,  it is worth it;  will the missions committee or our financial backers agree?

We define success in missions through three main components:

1. Faithfulness

Of all the long-term workers I respect, this is the common trait which makes people my missionary heroes. Miracles and massive numbers are cause for rejoicing, but nothing make me want to emulate someone like faithfulness. Hearing stories of the sacrifices people make or the way they engage with the culture, inspires my heart.

I recently spoke to an international leader in my mission who was still riding buses to his various training appointments in Africa. This man has the respect of a continent because he is willing to pay the price to live as they do.

When we moved to Africa, we set out for as long as was necessary to see something established which would outlast us. This goal cannot be measured by numbers or statistics. We will only be able to declare “Mission Accomplished” through being faithful.

Point to ponder: Are we simply being faithful to what God has called us to?

2. Obedience

Faithfulness cannot be our only measuring stick or ministry becomes our god. To truly be submitted to the right thing, we must include obedience as a measure.

  • Obedience causes us to adjust for different seasons in our lives. Seasons may involve pulling back in your children’s younger years.
  • Obedience may call you to walk away from a success with no plan as to the future, much like Abraham.
  • Obedience tells you when it is time to move on, passing off leadership at the right time.

Merely focussing on faithfulness brings a sense of endurance and no retreat. This can easily turn into self-guided ambition. Obedience enhances a desire to never give up, shaping it with wisdom from above.

Point to ponder: More than success, financial provision, or even happiness; are we being obedient?

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3. Sphere

Imagine if I could gain an agreement for a large donor to support us provided I engage in the creative arts? I would be way outside of my sphere. (folks who know me around the world are laughing at this thought.)

I am not called to dance or art, I am a teacher. My life message is the grace of God. If I am not engaging in this sphere, I am failing as a person and thereby a missionary.

When my family moved to South Africa, we had a desire to work on a smaller missions campus. God brought massive growth, so we needed to adjust our expectations. He was calling more workers into the field. Who were we to argue over personal preferences?

The same is true if God has called and gifted some to work in small groups. This is their definition of success, rather than large crusade-like numbers. They’re effectiveness, and resulting measure of success, comes through many one-on-one relationships.

Point to ponder: Are we doing the ministry God has gifted us uniquely to do regardless of what brings in the finances?

If we have peace in answering these three question several things are accomplished:

  • It takes away guilt when we are called to an “easier” or even a beautiful, scenic field.
  • It relieves the pressure of performance carried with the stereotype of being a missionary.
  • It allows us to enjoy the “ordinariness” of missionary life as much as the “miracles.”
  • It helps us be real people, sharing not only the joys of life, but also the struggles and frustrations.

Missionaries are real people.

We define success by faithfulness and obedience in the sphere of our gifting, not numbers or newsletters.

How do you define success? What elements would you add to this discussion?

– Chris Lautsbaugh, Missionary teacher and author with Youth With A Mission, living in S. Africa.
Blog:  NoSuperHeroes  Twitter: @lautsbaugh  Facebook:  NoSuperHeroes

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About Chris Lautsbaugh

In missions for 20+ years currently in South Africa as a teacher and leadership coach. He serves side by side with wife, Lindsey, and two boys, Garett and Thabo. Blogs at on grace, leadership, and missions. Wrote Death of the Modern SuperHero:How Grace Breaks our Rules.
  • I don’t have answers to the questions or anything to add, but this was just what I needed to read this morning. Less than 90 minutes ago I was asking my husband, “What am I doing here? Am I doing the right things? What do I need to do different?” I’m going to take these three areas and think through them later today. Thank you for deepening the questions I need to ask myself.

    • I can’t tell you how often I ask myself that same question! These do not remove the question from our vocabulary, but guide us as we walk through our inevitable frustrations and emotions.

  • De Wet Blomerus

    Well written Chris. I think I need to re-visit this post periodically and ask myself the questions.

  • Thanks, Chris. We were asked by our spiritual director this week to write a review of our first year of service here and draft a 5-year strategy for the future of this mission. This was a helpful read to get us focused this morning. It helps to frame what our vision for the future is thinking through it with these parameters.

    • Glad this helped. Reviews and Strategy sessions are great tools to help us evaluate how we are doing in faithfulness , obedience, and our sphere.

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  • Tanja

    I think these three points are very helpful. I have been a missionary for about ten years now, in two very different fields, and while the people and circumstances were very different, I know that my “sphere” is the same. And as a married woman, I would add to this point that as spouses, we need to respect the different spheres that God has prepared each spouse to minister in. Maybe in some seasons, one of the spouses’ gift will “shine” more, or be given more attention, but in the course of a lifetime in missions, it is so important that both be able to minister within their spheres of gifting and influence.

    • Tanja, great point about the spouses. It is so true. There are different seasons in a marriage, family, and ministry. My wife and I have had several discussions through the years on this. When you are in missions as a family, having a spouse “shine” for a season is your success as well.

  • Echoing what others have already said. This was so helpful to read and so timely for today as we are looking towards some really radical changes for us and our family over the next months.

    This may not be the case for everyone, but I know that to qualify as a success for me, I also have to be looking for (sometimes simply making the decision to discover) contentment and joy in mission and service – I want to have,model and share faithful, obedient service that is also inevitably contagious. My prayer is that God work through me to help motivate others to be faithful and obedient in their spheres of gifting. I know can be faithful and obedient – and do so morosely or with a martyred attitude. What does that say? It says nothing of the amazing privilege and miracle of God wanting and choosing to work with a fallen one like myself. I can’t define success if I classify (or lead others to classify) what I do as drudgery…

    • Very well said. We can be obedient and faithful, yet miserable. That would be yet another sign that perhaps we are motivated more by guilt than gratitude.

  • This is right on time for me, as well. It’s so easy to lose focus, and I’m quick to measure my success by other yardsticks than the ones God uses. I’m getting some “aha” moments out of the comments, too. 🙂 Thanks for the reminder of things that matter.

    • So great to hear that this post helped you, Christie. Also, wonderful that the conversation in the comment threads have also benefited you. Bless you!

  • Shay Ballew

    Excellent post, Chris. Really great questions to ponder and think on. I, too, am constantly wondering “what am I really doing here?”…”am I making a difference?”…”am I being ‘succesful’?” and “what will I be able to tell my supporters/family/friends back home we accomplished in our first 2 yrs on the field???” Loved your ideas of measuring success. Btw…just out of curiosity, how long have you been in S.A. with YWAM? My Aunt and late Uncle served in the Ivory Coast with YWAM and then as DTS teachers at the base in Van, Tx. for several years. Wonder if you might have known them?? (Al & Jan Smith)

  • thanks Chris, I will keep these question as part of my regular checkup 🙂 I have always focused a lot on obedience but the sphere suddenly makes a lot of sense to me. I do however feel like I have more than one sphere (very diverse gifts) do you think one can have a dual sphere?

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