Expectations: Future Disappointments, Planned Out in Advance

by Andrea Sears

Our perception of an experience can be greatly colored by our expectations. On the one hand, missionaries tend to understand that we must hold any expectations lightly as we travel to live in another country. We know that with so much change in our lives at once, the nature of some of those changes will surely be unexpected and surprising. We are prepared to be flexible. However, if the dissonance between expectations and reality is large enough, it can cause pervasive dissatisfaction that negatively impacts our assessment of the missionary experience and ultimately causes attrition.

It can also be true that we enter new situations with expectations that we don’t even realize we have. It’s possible that we have not been adequately informed of what to expect at all, so our imaginations have filled in the lack of information. We can even romanticize what life will be like on the mission field, filled with rewarding work for the Lord and saving souls day after day, with our well-adjusted families serving at our sides. For if the Lord is with us and has called us to this life, everything will be great, right?

It is important to examine the role that expectations play in the missionary experience, along with their potential role in causing missionary attrition. We all are going to have some expectations upon going to the mission field about what things will be like – whether we should or not, and whether they are realistic or not. It is important to recognize what our expectations are, and whether they are realistic, so that we can manage them (and the ensuing disappointments when we and others fail to live up to our ideals).

In a 2017 study on missionary attrition, we measured the frequency and strength of influence on the decision to leave the mission field for the following statements. This table summarizes the results by providing:

  1. The percentage of respondents who said that they experienced this factor on the mission field,
  2. The percentage of respondents who experienced the factor who said that this factor did (to some degree) affect their return decision, be it a slight, moderate, or strong effect, and
  3. The “strength index” of each factor, weighted for the size of the effect on their return decision.

The two areas that reached statistical significance on the strength factors were unmet expectations regarding team members and job responsibilities. In addition to the scaled data above, we collected open comments on these and other areas.

In our survey, 38.6% of participants responded to the question, “If applicable, how did your team members not meet your expectations?” One wise commenter gave an excellent overall perspective on this question:

“Tricky question because the only way people fail to live up to expectations is if we forget that they are people who are still trying to die to self and can have bad days and seasons . . . even if they are missionaries! In the end, you have to set your expectations on God, and as leaders build systems with accountability and systems to help protect people from leaning on anything other than God’s strength.”

Of the many comments we received, the most common ways that team relationships disappointed were in the level of interpersonal dysfunction or emotional unhealthiness of team members; the level of cohesiveness/community on their team; differences in personality, politics, life stage, etc.; the quality of leadership; and the level of disengagement on the team.

32% of survey participants responded to the question, “If applicable, how did your job responsibilities not meet your expectations?” The most common concerns were that the role was not as advertised, it was a poor fit with their skills, the workload was too low or too high (more often too high), it was a poorly defined role (which can easily cause conflict on the team when toes get stepped on), they felt “put in a box” (not free to use their unique skills and ideas), and that leadership on what they were supposed to be doing was inadequate.

Mission agencies, sending churches, missionaries, and family and friends of missionaries can benefit from this examination of expectations that missionaries have when going to the field and the many ways that real life can fail to live up to them. It can help to understand the common feelings and experiences missionaries share and to be aware of how to support them more effectively through it.

This is an extremely brief summary of a 37-page report on expectations factors related to missionary attrition, with lots of sample comments to delve into. For the full report on expectations factors related to missionary attrition, click here.


*Thanks to Elizabeth George for the insightful definition of expectations found in the article title.


Andrea Sears and her husband, Seth, spent 13 years working in the largest immigrant squatter settlement in Central America (in Costa Rica) and founded the Christian community development ministry giveDIGNITY. She holds a master’s degree in intercultural studies from Johnson University. She currently lives in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, directs the ministry’s local team from afar, and enjoys living near family and being a new grandmother.

Excess Baggage: The Weight of Unmet Expectations

In the five years since Andrea Sears conducted her survey on missionary attrition, she’s been steadily analyzing and releasing the results, topic by topic. Late last year at her Missions Experience blog, she posted the data on how “expectations factors” affect missionaries’ decisions to leave the field. Her findings show that at least half of the former missionaries surveyed “experienced disconnects between their expectations and reality” in the five areas of

team members, reported by 62%
community, 58%
relationships back home, 54%
ministry results, 52%
job responsibilities, 50%

And in looking at how unmet expectations contributed to the respondents’ attrition, she finds the top four factors to be

team members, reported by 65%
job responsibilities, 64%,
community, 61%
family life, 56%

These findings are interesting in and of themselves, but they remind me of the results of another survey, one that formed the basis of Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission, by Sue Eenigenburg and Robynn Bliss (a past contributor to this blog). In their book, published in 2010, the two take a deep dive into the role expectations play in navigating cross-cultural work. In 2013, I referenced their work when I wrote about the topic of expectations at my blog.

I’ve been thinking a lot about expectations lately and hope to address it here in the coming months. To start, I’d like to repost my article below, in a slightly edited form. It originally appeared under the title “Missionaries, Don’t Let Your Expectations Weigh You Down“:

I remember the good old days when you could pack 70 pounds into each of your two checked bags on international flights—at no extra cost. That meant that when our family of six moved overseas, we could take 840 pounds of clothes, books, sheets, cake mixes, and the like. And we used just about every ounce of it.

It could be argued that we didn’t need to take that much with us, but we’re Americans, after all, and we Americans don’t often pack light. I’ve traveled with people from other countries, and even on short trips, I invariably seem to end up lugging the largest pieces of luggage. What if there’s a pool nearby? Better bring swimming trunks, and a towel. What if it snows? What if I spill something on my Friday jeans? What if I need work shoes? What if somebody throws a formal party?

There’s also another set of luggage that cross-cultural workers tend to overpack. It’s the bags that hold our assumptions, our plans, . . . our expectations.

In 2010, Sue Eenigenburg and Robynn Bliss surveyed 323 female missionaries on how their expectations corresponded to reality on the mission field. The results form the backbone of their excellent book Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission. What they found is that our pre-field predictions often don’t measure up to our on-field experiences. (I say “our” because though the book is written for and about women, most of its insights and lessons easily apply to both sexes.)

The authors gave the women a list of 34 expectations and asked them to rate each one on the degree to which it applied to them. Then the respondents went back and evaluated the list against what actually came to be in their lives as missionaries.

In 14 of the areas, the women reported that their expectations exceeded what they found in real life. The 10 with the highest percentage of expectations greater than reality include some very deep, personal issues:

75.4% Am fruitful
70.4% Am a prayer warrior
67.6% Am growing spiritually continually
62.7% Am spiritually dynamic
65.8% Continually trust God for everything
57.5% Have a daily quiet time
56.5% Have a successful quiet time
56% Am well balanced in areas of ministry in and out of home
55.1% Have miraculous stories to tell of how God is using me
50.9% Embrace my new host culture

The disconnect between expectations and reality often leads to disappointment and guilt. And as the authors point out, this can lead to burnout. It is difficult to move steadily forward when we are dragged down by the weight of our overpacked luggage.

So how can we pack less? How can we lighten our load? Here are some suggestions.

  • Read fewer biographies. Read more people.
    Stories about missionaries can be very inspirational, but when inspiration is the main goal, they can often leave out the flaws and shortcomings. When we assume that real missionaries are superhuman, then we are discouraged when we don’t measure up. That’s why we need to have honest conversations to find out the good and the bad, the easy and the hard. But not everyone will give you the unvarnished truth. It usually takes time to earn someone’s trust. And you’ll need to ask questions that get people rethinking their responses, to speak beyond the safe and familiar answers. Try asking a missionary, “What do you wish you’d known before you moved overseas?” “What have you learned?” “What would you tell yourself as a younger missionary candidate if you could?” “What are some of your unmet expectations?” (For other examples, see the questions asked of missionaries in Eenigenburg and Bliss’s survey, printed in the appendix of their book.)
  • And when you read, read between and outside the lines.
    As Eenigenburg and Bliss discuss, too many books on the lives of past missionaries paint a picture of spiritual perfection. One of the best-known missionary legacies is that of William Carey, who is often called “the father of modern missions.” In 1792, a sermon he delivered gave us the words, “Expect great things; attempt great things.” But I doubt that all of his expectations were met in his later life as a missionary in India. During that time a five-year-old son died; his wife, Dorothy, suffered from severe mental illness, became delusional, and died at the age of 51; his second wife died at 60; and his son Felix, after becoming a missionary himself, suffered tragedy and walked away from God. In Expectations and Burnout, the authors discuss this aspect of Carey, citing James R. Beck’s book, Dorothy Carey: The Tragic and Untold Story of Mrs. William Carey. Beck writes that Carey has often been portrayed as “never discouraged and never complaining” but adds that he wrote in his journal, “I don’t love to be always complaining—yet I always complain. The context for “Expect great things; attempt great things” is the life and work of Carey, not a Pinterest board or a poster of a snow-capped mountain range. But just as some books—and missionaries—are only completely positive, some can be entirely negative. Be cautious in drawing conclusions based on either side. But when you hear what sounds like cynicism and despair, be slow to judge. Context is important here, too. Find out the whole story. And don’t say, “That will never happen to me . . . not with my faith, my preparation, and my plans.”

Before you seat out for the field, prepare thoroughly and pack carefully. When it comes to packing your expectations, it isn’t just about seeing how much you can get into a suitcase and still get the zipper closed. It’s also about being discerning and knowing what to leave behind.

But you don’t want to go empty-handed, either. Hopes, dreams, and plans are important. Don’t forget your underwear and socks. And if you’ve got room, you might want to take that swimsuit, too. Just in case.

(Andrea Sears, “Expectations Factors,” The Missions Experience,” October 14, 2021; Sue Eenigenburg and Robynn Bliss, Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission, William Carey, 2010; “Expect Great Things; Attempt Great Things,” Center for Study of the Life and Work of William Carey, D. D. [1761-1834], updated November 22, 2013)

[photo: “Heavy Luggage,” by Maurice Koop, used under a Creative Commons license]

How Does Physical Health Impact a Missionary’s Decision to Leave the Field?

by Andrea Sears

There are many things about living on the mission field that can influence the physical health of missionaries and their families. When the body does not cooperate, even the most simple of tasks can become difficult. Sickness can necessitate trips to the home country for treatment, or even permanent relocation to an area where full recovery is possible.

We measured the frequency and strength of influence on the return decision for the following statements considered to be host-country-related factors:

  • I experienced significant health problems.
  • My spouse experienced significant health problems.
  • My child/children experienced significant health problems.
  • There was inadequate health care in my host country.
  • I had a lack of health insurance.
  • I felt that stress affected my health.
  • I felt that stress affected the health of others in my family.
  • I had limited access to clean water.
  • I felt that the climate/geography affected my health negatively.
  • I felt that pollution affected my health negatively.

When it comes to health matters, neither missionaries nor their sending churches and agencies are necessarily in control of how their bodies will respond to physical conditions, challenges, and illness. Country factors impacting health, such as climate and pollution, can hardly be changed. However, it is hoped that this data will be helpful for its descriptive value, as well as for the limited conclusions we can draw about preventable factors of attrition related to health. It may also suggest areas for deeper etiological research into the health of missionaries. 


The table below summarizes the results for each question by providing: 

  1. The percentage of respondents who said that they experienced this factor on the mission field,
  2. The percentage of respondents who experienced the factor that said that this factor did (to some degree) affect their return decision, be it a slight, moderate, or strong effect, and
  3. The “strength index” of each factor, weighted for the size of the effect on their return decision. 


Discussion of Quantitative Results
It is noteworthy that more than half of missionaries reported having serious health problems. More than one-third reported serious health problems for their spouse. And one-third reported serious health problems for at least one child. These are very high rates of sickness for the periods of time being reported (the average tenure was approximately 8 1/2 years). In all three cases, over half of the respondents reported that this issue affected their decision to return to their home country, and to an overall moderate degree. It is hard to know how much overlap there is between the three categories, but clearly many families have multiple people experiencing significant health problems, which can compound the stress of dealing with them.

The most significant finding of this section (and indeed, one of the most significant in the survey) is the degree to which participants felt that stress affected both their health and the health of their families. More than two-thirds felt that stress affected their health, while half felt that stress affected the health of other family members. In both scenarios, this affected the return decision in 68-70% of cases, and to a relatively strong degree. These findings seem to indicate that the whole family experiences the stress of living on the mission field and is affected by it. Spouses and children are not immune. In addition, when stress is affecting the health of the whole family, the likelihood of attrition increases.


Qualitative Data
To survey the most frequent types of health problems experienced by missionaries, in addition to the quantitative scaled data, we collected open comments on the following question:

  • If applicable, please describe any serious health problems that you, your spouse, and/or your child/children experienced.

The collective suffering reported truly shows the sobering costs of the missions call, and the astonishing bravery and stamina of missionaries in facing them.

Many missionaries reported here on mental health issues that they and their families experienced. There is a subsequent section specifically pertaining to mental health, but at this point in the survey, respondents would not have known this, so some provided it here. The analysis of and commentary on mental-health-related data will be set aside until publishing of the relevant section, except for one very important observation: Missionaries reported mental health issues more than any physical health category, and this occurred without them being asked to include such issues specifically.

We must remember that these were self-reported “serious health problems.” We did not ask specifically about each possible health problem, nor define what constituted a serious health problem. 


Stress as a Contributing Factor
An important observation is the role that stress can play in many of these physical ailments, either giving disease a foothold or exacerbating a problem that would otherwise be less severe. In fact, 52 commenters specifically mentioned that they believed or were told that their physical health problems were caused by high stress: 

  • Some were diagnosed with cortisol regulation problems and adrenal fatigue, directly related to long-term stress exposure. 
  • Others developed disorders that are known or suspected to have stress as a contributing factor, such as migraines, gastric issues, high blood pressure, autoimmune disorders, insomnia, or mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD. 
  • Still others had chronic health conditions that were potentially worsened by stress, such as asthma, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, or cancer. Stressed individuals are also more susceptible to viruses and infections, and take longer to recover from injuries and surgeries.


Environment as a Contributing Factor
Sometimes the physical environment in the host country was not conducive to maintaining the health of the missionaries and/or their family. This included primarily air pollution, but also natural substances that caused allergies or severe reactions. 


Mental and Physical “Grit”
Reading the stories of health trials reveals one type of high price paid by some missionaries for their commitment to the call. The mental and physical toughness of these missionaries is also apparent. Far from being “weak” or debilitated by their health struggles, they were more typically strong individuals who stubbornly persisted for some time despite them. 

Having a health emergency is frightening enough in one’s home country. Being in a place where you are not sure you can even get the medical care that you or your children need can cause an entirely different level of anxiety and uncertainty. One participant shared, “Frankly, any health issue seemed to be serious in an overseas context.” This is a sense of vulnerability that people in the home country cannot often understand.

It is truly impressive how much missionaries are willing to endure for the privilege of participating in the Great Commission. Sending agencies, churches, and friends back home should be aware of what missionaries may go through physically in order to provide the necessary emotional and practical support when health problems strike.


Lack of Support as a Contributing Factor
Even when faced with severe physical or emotional challenges, some said that they still would have stayed were it not for other barriers that came into play. For some, it was a lack of team support during health trials. Others even felt that team dynamics were actively creating stress in their lives that contributed to the health problems they experienced.


What can we learn from this data to help us better serve our missionaries? How can missionaries best protect themselves from health dangers on the mission field?

Physical health is important to all people everywhere. It enables us to have the energy and ability to follow our dreams and calling. When the body is working well, we don’t think about it. When it malfunctions, restoring it can quickly become the focus of our concern. Poor health can hobble our ministry as quickly as team conflict, family emergencies, or a loss of funding. 

We must not idolize physical health, for we know that our bodies are subject to decay and that God works through suffering as much as (or more than!) He does through health. But neither must we ignore it, naïvely missing its importance to our ability to serve. With this model of being good stewards of our missionaries’ health, but also recognizing that we are not in full control of it, we can do the following things to lower attrition:

  1. We can ensure that missionaries have adequate health insurance or a financial plan for the payment of health services. 
  2. We can train missionary candidates on physical health issues common to the area to which they are going, how to diagnose and treat them, and how to seek medical care when it is needed. 
  3. We can also train missionary candidates on the importance of stress management, and the effect that stress can have on their health. 
  4. We can practice good self-care as missionaries, being careful to steward our own health well. This includes pursuing healthy diet, exercise, and sleep habits; maintaining a healthy weight; and remembering to have regular times of rest.
  5. We can check-in about physical health when delivering missionary care. 
  6. We can provide mutual care and sensitivity to team members who are experiencing health challenges. 
  7. And finally, we can remember that even when all these things are done, there is still a spiritual war taking place in the unseen realm and physical problems may be a sign of spiritual attack. We must remember to avail ourselves of the spiritual armor of God, prayer, time in the Word, the laying on of hands, fellowship with other believers, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

And when sickness does come, we can remember that this too is forming us into Christ’s image. God still loves and cares for us even when He allows us to pass through difficult times, and these same trials can be used to glorify Him. 


For more detail and specific comments in the qualitative section, visit www.themissionsexperience.weebly.com/blog, or email andrea.d.sears@gmail.com to request the full pdf document of the results.


Andrea Sears is co-founder of the ministry giveDIGNITY, which works in the marginalized community of La Carpio in San Jose, Costa Rica. The ministry focuses on Christ-centered community development initiatives in education, vocation, and violence prevention. Her family has been in Costa Rica for 11 years, and served as the Missionaries in Residence at John Brown University during the 2017-2018 year while on furlough.

How Do Cultural Factors Influence a Missionary’s Decision to Leave?

by Andrea Sears

In reviewing the cultural factors that are part of a missionary’s decision to return to their passport country, it is relevant to consider where survey participants served. Of the 714 survey participants who answered this question, the following chart represents the proportion that served in each region:

For the purposes of the chart, Mexico was included in Central America with other Latino cultures, though it is technically part of North America. Fifteen percent of participants served on more than one continent, and were given the “various” designation since they could not be assigned to only one continent. All others served in only one country, or in various countries within the same continent. The majority (68.2%) of participants served in one country only, 18.6% served in two countries, 7.6% served in three countries, and 5.6% served in four or more countries during their time on the mission field.

Because survey participants served all over the globe in very disparate cultures, their struggles were at times common and at times very different. We measured the frequency and strength of influence on the return decision for the following statements considered to be host-country-related factors:

  • I struggled with the local language of my host country.
  • I struggled with the local culture of my host country.
  • I struggled with local relationships in my host country.
  • I missed the developed world.
  • I experienced security issues.
  • I had limited access to electricity and/or technology.
  • I felt taken advantage of by locals for resources.
  • I experienced conflict with locals that grew out of cultural differences.
  • I experienced conflict with locals that was unaffected by cultural differences.
  • I had to leave the country because of immigration/visa issues.
  • I was in danger of persecution because of my faith/vocation.
  • I was in danger of persecution because of my nationality.
  • Political instability or armed conflict made it too dangerous to stay.
  • National economic instability made it untenable to stay.
  • The government restricted missionary activities to the point that I was unable to work in the area of my calling.
  • The climate was difficult for me to live in.
  • A natural disaster caused me to be evacuated.


This group of factors has relatively low strength indexes for most of the items. While some cultural factors have very high numbers of people experiencing them, usually these factors did not affect the decision to leave, and if it did, it did so to a small degree.

Two of the strongest factors in this group were: (1) having to leave the country because of immigration/visa issues and (2) having security issues. Interestingly, the issues experienced by the most people are thankfully those that are at least in part within the missionary’s locus of control, such as the first four statements on the list. This is a place to look for preventable attrition and prepare missionaries to better weather cultural stress.


Language Study
We also collected data on how long each participant studied the language of their host culture (in a formal sense), in order to see if there is a correlation between length of study and tenure, or between length of study and reporting a struggle with the language.

Based on this data, the greatest proportion of those who studied formally did so for at least 9 months, though there is a small bump at 3-6 months. Those who spent at least 3 months in formal language study stayed on the field for at least an average of 9 ½ years, while those who did not study or studied for less than 3 months had an average of 6-7 years of tenure.

The majority of participants admitted to difficulty with the language, regardless of whether or how long they studied it. However, those studying more than 6 months tended to have their language struggles factor less into their return decision. Those studying less than 3 months more often reported that language was a moderate to strong factor in their return decision.


Culture Struggles
We also collected open comments on the following question: “What aspects of the local culture did you struggle with?”

Themes that consistently emerged in the comments, ranked by prevalence, were: (1) honor/shame culture and the resulting style of indirect communication, (2) income disparity, (3) gender inequity, (4) corruption/crime, (5) demands of hospitality and having less privacy, and (6) less focus on order/efficiency.

Other themes also frequently mentioned were visibly not fitting in, language difficulties, fatalism, different concepts of time/pace of life, local supernaturalistic beliefs, and different cleanliness/hygiene standards.

Unfortunately, comments about culture often contained tones of negative judgment, with indirect communication being categorized as “dishonesty” or fatalism being called “laziness.” One thing we can learn from these responses is that our own worldview permeates deep in our psyche and defines for us what we think is the “right” way to do things, leading us to evaluate others unfavorably when they don’t share our values. Part of being a successful missionary is intentionally rooting out our own ethnocentrism in expecting others to be like us (or to work on becoming like us).


Local Relationships
We also collected comments on the question: “What did you struggle with in your local relationships?”

Themes commonly mentioned were language barriers, developing intimacy and trust, the time required to build friendship as an outsider, differing relationship expectations, and distinguishing between true friendships and ministry.


Culture shock and culture stress are common, but also expected and apparently not a primary direct cause of missionary attrition. But they certainly affect the quality of the missionary experience and impact the overall resilience of the missionary. And lowered resilience certainly does affect missionary attrition.

Conclusions and recommendations include preparing missionaries to cross-cultures well, including a list of topics to cover in training and coaching; learning and using the skill of cognitive reframing to minimize ethnocentrism; curbing certain Western tendencies to adjust to different settings; and self-care.

To see the full detailed report and discussion of results, click here. You can subscribe on the website for notifications when future results are published. You can also email andrea.d.sears@gmail.com for a pdf if you want to save or share the results.


Andrea Sears is co-founder of the ministry giveDIGNITY, which works in the marginalized community of La Carpio in San Jose, Costa Rica. The ministry focuses on Christ-centered community development initiatives in education, vocation, and violence prevention. Her family has been in Costa Rica for 8 years, and served as the Missionaries in Residence at John Brown University during the 2017-2018 year while on furlough.

New data confirms that team conflict is one of the primary factors in missionary attrition

by Andrea Sears

Finally, what is certainly the longest of the survey report sections is finished: team factors. (You can explore other results from the missionary attrition survey here, here, and here.) These results confirmed that team conflict is a primary factor for attrition, but it is not the primary factor.

It is important to note that no single agency represented more than 7% of the total sample. 221 mission or sending agencies were represented. 68% of those had only one participant in the study, 27% had 2-9 participants in the study, and only 5% had more than 10 participants in the study. This shows that the survey results represent a broad sample of missionaries with a diverse representation of agencies, and that the sampling from any given agency did not disproportionately influence the results. 

This section of the report measured responses to the following statements:

  • My missionary term was up.
  • There was a conflict on the team.
  • There was a scandal on the team.
  • I struggled to understand my role on the team.
  • I did not have a team.
  • I struggled to balance my role(s) as a spouse/parent with ministry expectations.
  • As a woman, I felt marginalized or devalued, or that men were given more opportunities to lead/contribute.
  • I had insufficient local supervision/accountability.
  • I had too much local supervision/accountability.
  • I received too little missionary care.
  • I did not feel at liberty to pursue my passion and call within the team/agency that I was a part of.
  • I disconnected with the vision of the mission.
  • I had too little administrative support from my home base.
  • I felt that some of my team members/leaders lacked integrity.
  • It was time for me to retire.

Past studies have indicated that conflict with other missionaries has been a frequent or predominant reason for attrition. We wanted to dig into this issue and try to find some clues about the reasons that conflict occurs. We also analyzed the responses of younger missionaries as a subset to see if generational differences exist in expectations about how a team should work.

The strongest factors explored in this section are seen in the areas of team conflict, role confusion, the lack of missionary care, feeling restricted in the pursuit of one’s passion/call, and feeling that other team members lacked integrity. While team conflict does feature in the top factors, it is not THE strongest factor. It is merely on par with the other three top factors in this section. And while many people do leave the field because their term was officially up, there are typically other reasons in the background that explain why they aren’t doing another term, and those are revealed in the strength of their survey responses to certain factors.

We also collected open comments on the following questions:

  • If there was conflict on your team and you feel comfortable sharing, what do you think was the most frequent cause of the conflict?
  • If you are a woman and you felt marginalized or that men were given more opportunities than you, in what ways did you experience this?

Issues that people believed caused conflict on their team tended to fall into 5 general categories: personal sin and dysfunction, poor leadership, differing boundaries, poor communication, and disagreements about how resources should be obtained/used.

Women shared concerns about: 

  • being explicitly excluded from ministry roles, 
  • having to balance full responsibility for the family with a ministry role, 
  • local cultural limitations on women’s roles and ministry engagement, 
  • policies and practices that favor men (such as men not being willing to work with closely with women, or not allowing men to work less than full-time so that their wives can also have a ministry), 
  • being assigned to stereotypically “female” roles (like childcare, hospitality/event management, or administrative work), 
  • being excluded from communications and meeting invitations, 
  • their opinions and roles treated as “less than” in comparison to male counterparts, 
  • being scrutinized more than male counterparts, 
  • being excluded from leadership, and
  • being openly belittled or patronized by male leadership. 

Clearly, there are important lessons for us to learn about caring for missionaries in extremely vulnerable and high-pressured life situations, preventing and navigating conflict well, and better including the 2/3 of our missions workforce who are women.

To learn more and read the full 26-page report, check out this page.

More resources about team conflict:

Power or concerns: Contrasting perspectives on missionary conflict

Let’s Get Real About Missionary Team Chemistry

Humility: The Remedy for Mission Team Conflict

More resources about gender and missions:

The Gender Divide in Missions

Women in Missions: Facing the 21st Century

Why Are Women More Eager Missionaries?


Andrea Sears is co-founder of the ministry giveDIGNITY, which works in the marginalized community of La Carpio in San Jose, Costa Rica. The ministry focuses on Christ-centered community development initiatives in education, vocation, and violence prevention. Her family has been in Costa Rica for 8 years, and served as the Missionaries in Residence at John Brown University during the 2017-2018 year while on furlough.

Too Much Member Care—Can There Be Such a Thing?

It’s a question I’m reluctant to ask, because I’m a strong proponent of more effort and resources devoted to caring for cross-cultural workers. But here it is: Can there be too much member care?

To help with the answer, I’ll dip once more into the deep well of data from ReMAP and ReMAP II, studies conducted by the World Evangelical Fellowship/World Evangelical Alliance. And more specifically, I’ll consult the analysis of those results by Detlef Blöcher and Jonathan Lewis, who first asked the question more than twenty years ago. The pair examine the effects of member care on attrition in Too Valuable to Lose: Exploring the Causes and Cures of Missionary Attrition, and Blöcher addresses the issue in Worth Keeping: Global Perspectives on Best Practice in Missionary Retention.

Cutting to the chase, here is what they found: An increase in time and money devoted to missionary care, as a proportion of a sending organization’s total resources, tracks with a decrease in “preventable” attrition. That’s true, though, only until a tipping point is reached. Above that percentage, more care actually correlates with more workers leaving the field. While the first finding seems obvious to me, I have to say that the second one doesn’t align with my general assumptions and seems to fly in the face of my advocacy for more and more member care. But I can’t ignore information just because it doesn’t easily fit my personal views.

This requires a closer look, so here are more details: The first ReMAP study, published in 1997, looked at the overall area of “field care and support,” made up of ten items (field leadership, pastoral care, job description, on-the-job training, annual leave, regular field visits, provision for children, team structure, letters or phone calls, and conferences). When considering agencies with 26-200 members (the group giving the “most reliable results”), the study found “a clear and positive relationship” between the percentage of an agency’s overall time and money spent on these kinds of care and lower rates of attrition. But once the percentage reaches 6%, preventable attrition begins to rise. 

Ten years later, ReMAP II asked agencies (in both ReMAP studies, the term agencies also includes individual churches that send out missionaries on their own) to estimate the percentage of their total time devoted to “pastoral” or “member” care. Its findings reinforce those of ReMAP I. When considering potentially preventable causes of attrition for agencies from “Old Sending Countries,” a drop-off in retention occurs when the proportion of member-care staff hours climbs above 10%.

How are we to interpret these results? Following are some questions to consider, gleaned from thoughts presented in Blöcher’s writing:

  • Does too much attention paid to looking for missionary difficulties create something of a self-fulfilling prophecy?
  • Could member care interfere with missionaries’ development of resilience and produce attitudes of self-centeredness and entitlement?
  • If an organization is known for its strong member care, might it attract struggling candidates?
  • Could an agency be inclined to accept applicants with obvious issues, assuming that its extensive member care will take care of them after they go abroad?
  • Do professional counselors sometimes too quickly encourage workers to leave the field?
  • When large amounts of  money and time are spent on member care, does that hurt the organization by pulling resources from other priorities?

All of these are interesting questions. Some make more sense to me than others, but I can’t discount any of them out of hand. Having said that, here are a few ideas to add, to help in the discussion.

As we’ve talked about before at A Life Overseas, when surveys are conducted concerning the missions experience, it matters who is queried, as we can expect variations between responses from agency leaders and from field workers. The ReMAP studies consulted agencies, coming up with the results referenced above. But two years ago, when Andrea Sears surveyed former missionaries about their reasons for leaving the field, one of their highest-rated factors was “lack of missionary care.” I wonder if some of this disconnect comes from how we define the terms. “Member care,” “missionary care,” “pastoral care,” “personal care,” “personal support,” and “field care and support” may mean different things to different people. It’s quite possible that agency representatives could be offering what they consider member care while those on the receiving end don’t see it as such. It’s also possible that care may be distributed unevenly or that it’s not adequately reaching those who need it most.

Along the same lines, the giver of the care makes a difference, too. As an example, while an agency leader may make a field visit with the plan to minister to a worker’s spiritual and emotional health, the worker may not feel safe enough, given authority structures, to share openly. Thus, the missionary may interpret the visit in a much different way than the visitor does.

There’s also the factor that not all member care is created equal. As Blöcher points out, the ReMAP surveys could only look at quantity of member care, not quality. Here’s one aspect of this: When extra member care is added, can it become diluted? For instance, if all personnel were tasked with giving 25% of their time to member care, would it really translate into a 25% increase in actual care? Or might it become, in practice, neglected, as in “everyone’s job is no one’s job”?

How do third-party member-care givers fit into this equation? If a cross-cultural worker receives member care above and beyond what is supplied by the agencies—from dedicated member-care organizations and professionals, supporting churches, or informal sources—could that contribute to an even-higher rate of attrition? Or could it be that those outside the agency can provide more of the kind of care that missionaries are desiring? Or is care directly from the agency necessary for the missionaries to see that they are valued by their organizations?

Another issue involving member care from outside the sending organization is that those caregivers may not have the same commitment to retention or length of service that the sending group has. Therefore, they may be quicker to support workers in making the decision to leave. For some, this may lead to a premature exit. But it can also allow for the kind of necessary leaving that is best for all involved. Blöcher acknowledges the need for this type of attrition.

To me, one of the strongest explanations for the connection between excessive member care and higher retention is the recognition of how an increase in member care affects other services offered. For most organizations, allocating dollars and hours is something of a zero-sum game, so adding to one area necessitates subtracting from another. But as Blöcher states, member care should not be considered a replacement for other important components. In fact, he reports that

mission agencies with very intensive [member care] programs gave a significantly lower rating in organisational issues like: Mission statement, Clear goals, Missionaries’ pre-field training (especially in Missiology), Effective orientation of new missionaries in the place of service, Language study, Supervision, Effective administrative support, Sustained and adequate financial support, and Maintenance of spiritual life.

When member care is emphasized, what might be neglected?

We also need to consider that for some organizations, the cause and effect could be reversed, meaning that a high rate of attrition (or in anticipation of such) could be what brings about an extreme commitment to member care. In those cases, the increased care would come as a response to workers leaving the field, and it might take some time for the new and greater devotion to member care to have a positive effect. It’s also possible that, in some cases, the increased proportion of time and money going towards member care is not the result of growth in the number of member-care personnel but rather comes from a decrease in other categories of workers.

The type of member care invested in is also an important factor. When ReMAP II compared preventative care (“strengthening of the missionaries’ personality and spiritual life”) to crisis response and restoration, retention was shown to decrease when too much attention was paid to one over the other. In one subgroup of Old Sending Countries, the best proportion for lowering preventable attrition was 40% preventative care to 60% crisis intervention, while a snapshot of New Sending Country data put the best mix of the two at around half and half.

And if we return to the components making up ReMAP I’s field care and support (listed above), we see that the data show that the presence of all but two of these items correlate with an increase in the preventable attrition rate. Only regular letters or phone calls showed “a clear positive effect,” and on-the-job training showed a “marginal” positive effect. This led Blöcher and Lewis to conclude that

good communication with the missionary may be the single most significant support item in helping lower preventable attrition. It is not likely that the rest of the items in and of themselves actually increase attrition, yet agencies with low attrition rates have invested less into these benefits. This means that support on the field in itself will not keep people in service, unless it has been preceded by careful candidate screening as well as pre-field training and possible other factors.

So what do we do with this information . . . and speculation? First, we shouldn’t forget the correlation between too little member care and higher rates of attrition. But we also can’t ignore the data as member care increases.

Member care is a good thing. Can there be too much of a good thing? Yes. But agencies will need to understand the whys in order to formulate their priorities and policies in this area. And for cross-cultural workers, I would caution against avoiding help for fear that it will do more harm than good. Those who are struggling often tend to be embarrassed by their needs, thinking that they’re at fault and don’t deserve extra attention. Instead, they believe it’s up to them to try harder on their own. This is difficult to figure out when you’re at your weakest and most vulnerable. That’s when it is all the more necessary to have someone skilled, someone trustworthy, someone who can provide empathy and honest feedback to help you see things clearly.

Member care certainly isn’t a cure-all. It has its limitations and, quite possibly, its undesirable effects if relied on too heavily. The solution to problems faced by cross-cultural workers can’t be member care period. It needs to be member care and.

When it comes to member care, what is the best balance, the correct rhythm? That’s something definitely worth looking for.

(Detlef Blöcher and Jonathan Lewis, Too Valuable to Lose: Exploring the Causes and Cures of Missionary Attrition, William Taylor, ed., William Carey, 1997; Blöcher, “What ReMAP I Said, Did, and Achieved,” Worth Keeping: Global Perspectives on Best Practice in Missionary Retention, Rob Hay, et al, eds., William Carey, 2007; Blöcher, in “Member Care,” Worth Keeping: Global Perspectives on Best Practice in Missionary Retention;   Katie Rowe, “Closer to the Truth about Current Missionary Attrition: An Initial Analysis of Results,” A Life Overseas, April 16, 2018)

[photo: “Coffee Beans Falling into a Cup,” by Bryon Lippincott, used under a Creative Commons license]

A Distant Look Back at Missionaries and Attrition, Part II

In part one of this “distant look back,” I discussed the length of time missionaries of the past spent on the field, using data from William Gordon Lennox’s 1933 book, The Health and Turnover of Missionaries. In this segment, I’ll move on to the reasons why their time overseas came to an end.

When determining the causes of missionary attrition, Lennox understands the challenge of drilling down to the truth, writing,

The elder Morgan is credited with this statement, “There are two reasons for a man’s decisions: first, a good reason; second, the real reason.” How many missionaries leave their work is not nearly so interesting and pertinent a question as, why do they leave? Obtaining this information for all missionaries who have left service is a real task. Precipitating or contributing factors must be separated from those of fundamental importance; the reasons which lie behind the merely good reasons must, if possible, be unearthed.

For the missionary employer a lack of funds may be an excellent reason with which to cover his real dissatisfaction with the work of an employee. For the missionary himself, ill health may subconsciously act as substitute for a more fundamental but unexpressed dislike for his missionary task.

To track reasons for withdrawal, Lennox received data from the following missionary boards in the US, for the noted time periods: the general boards of the Methodist Episcopal Church and Northern Baptist Convention (1900-1928), the Northern Baptist women’s board, the board of the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America, and the American Board (1918-1928), and the Young Women’s Christian Association (1918-1927). These groups reported reasons for withdrawal for 3,712 of the 3,733 missionaries who ended their service during these years.

“Undoubtedly a somewhat different picture would be presented,” writes Lennox, “if we had the reasons as given by the missionaries themselves rather than those given by the officials of the boards.” He qualifies this by noting that the Methodist and Baptist general boards did also consider missionary correspondence in their determinations, but the general principle still holds true: that agency leaders and missionaries will often differ in what causes they report. And this, combined with the difficulty of finding the “real” reason, as opposed to the “good” reason, makes collecting those causes even more difficult. But whatever information we are able to gather—even with its limitations—is useful and adds to a fuller understanding of the missionary experience.

So what did Lennox find? Following are the top-ten causes for attrition as reported in The Health and Turnover of Missionaries. Note that these are considered “major” causes, without contributing reasons factored in:

  1. Sickness, 31% (19% missionary, 12% family member)
  2. Death, 15% (12% self, 3% family member)
  3. Age/retirement, 8%
  4. Other, 7%
  5. Difficulty in temperament, 6%
  6. Marriage, 6% (though nearly half married other missionaries and continued their work with other organizations)
  7. Personal claims at home, 5% (such as caring for parents or supervising children’s education)
  8. Term worker, 5% (those who left after a 1-3 year appointment)
  9. War, 4%
  10. Unsatisfactory work/performance, 4%

Lennox groups together temperament, unsatisfactory work, poor personal conduct, disinterest in the work, and deficient faith under the interesting category “Misfits,” which includes 15% of the withdrawals. Of these, 40% had “difficulties in temperament or in getting along well with other missionaries, nationals, or with general missionary policy,” and 30% were lacking in the quality of their work.

As can be seen above, nearly half (46%) of the workers ended their service due to sickness or death—either affecting themselves or a family member. And even this reflects an improvement over the situations faced by earlier pioneers. Here is what Lennox has to say about whose who served a century before his report:

The early days, with their slow sailing ships and their quick viper-striking tropical diseases, saw missionaries dying “with their boots on.” When missionaries went home it was to the Heavenly and not to the American home. Accounts of some missionaries of a century ago end as follows: “jungle fever,” “massacred by cannibals,” “spasmodic cholera,” “thrown from sofa in cabin—shattered nerves,” “in a paroxysm of delirium he plunged into the sea,” “African fever,” “bleeding of the lungs,” “lateness of season in which journey taken,” and again and again, “cholera”—“cholera”—“cholera!”

For the years leading up to 1928, Lennox notes a significant drop in sickness and death as causes of attrition, with deaths decreasing by more than half. And today, those two factors have moved even farther down the list. Certainly much has changed in this area over the last two-hundred years. And yet, many of those who now go abroad in missionary service are still putting their health and lives at risk.

As for the other causes, how do they compare with what’s found in newer rankings? While that’s a useful question, we need to be cautious in formulating an answer. It’s difficult to make accurate comparisons when different surveys use different labels, or common labels have different meanings. Some studies report categories; some break them down into individual causes. Some weigh contributing factors, while others don’t. Some collect data from agencies, with others asking the missionaries themselves. We also need to take into account such things as differences in the number of workers included in the results, where they are from, where they are serving, the kinds of organizations they represent, and the amount of time that is covered.

That being said, I still want to show the following information from two more-recent surveys, not so much for the comparisons, but for the overall context they provide, to draw together their “somewhat different pictures” to help bring into focus a more complete panorama over time. The studies are ReMAP II, published by the Mission Commission of the World Evangelical Fellowship in 1997, and the Missionary Experience Survey, from Andrea Sears at John Brown University, conducted in 2018.

First, here are the top-ten reasons for withdrawal, as collected from US agencies and churches, from ReMAP II. The percentages show the relative importance of the weighted reasons:

  1. Normal retirement, 13.7%
  2. Children, 8.8%
  3. Change of job, 8%
  4. Health problems, 7.4%
  5. Problems with peers, 7.3%
  6. Lack of home support, 6.1%
  7. Disagreement with agency, 4.9%
  8. (tied) Personal concerns, and Marriage/family conflict, 4.5%
  9. Poor cultural adaption, 3.6%

And here are the results gathered by Andrea Sears, from responses sent to her by missionaries from the US and several other countries, with the percentages representing the perceived importance of the weighted categories:

  1. Family, 25.7%
  2. Team/Agency, 22.3%
  3. Other, 10.3%
  4. Health, 10%
  5. Mental health, 9.5%
  6. Host country, 6.6%
  7. Spiritual, 6.5%
  8. Financial, 5.2%
  9. Expectations, 3.9%

In the world of missions, over the years, much has changed. Much, also, has stayed the same. What will the future bring?

We can learn a lot from numbers and statistics—whether that be in the quantity of years served or in the percentages attributed to causes for attrition—but the numbers are valuable only if they point us to the individuals and stories that produced them. And I’m not expressing anything new when I say that numbers don’t give the complete narrative. In fact, Lennox said the same thing years ago.

As he starts his book, he comments that in 1923 there existed 826 Protestant missionary societies and committees, which had spent $70 million that year in support of 29,000 cross-cultural workers serving abroad. And then he adds,

The influence of missions, however, is not to be measured by numbers, either of societies, of men or of dollars. For a hundred years mission-driven men and women have been percolating into the far crannies of the earth. They have jolted over dust-heavy Manchurian plains, paddled into lonely ocean lagoons, established homes in Indian villages of mud, struggled through African thickets and claimed Himalayan heights, bringing, or trying to bring, God to man. These missionaries have altered age-old customs, deflected the course of civilizations, demonstrated goodwill, lived devotion and courage, and turned thoughts in myriads upward.

Yes, much has changed, but the essence of cross-cultural Christian service is one thing that has remained the same: Mission-driven men and women percolating into the far crannies of the earth . . . bringing, or trying to bring, God to man.

(William Gordon Lennox, The Health and Turnover of Missionaries, Methodist Book Concern, 1933; Too Valuable to Lose: Exploring the Causes and Cures of Missionary Attrition, William Taylor, ed., William Carey, 1997; Andrea Sears, “More Results: Continued Analysis of the Missionary Attrition Survey,” A Life Overseas, September 12, 2018)

[Photo by Made By Morro on Unsplash]

A Distant Look Back at Missionaries and Attrition, Part I


The opinion is often expressed that the present-generation missionary does not view his work as a work for life.         —William Lennox

Not every former missionary gets an obituary printed in The New York Times, but in 1960, William Gordon Lennox did. Born in Colorado Springs in 1884, Lennox attended Colorado College, but when he applied to the Boston University Divinity School, he was rejected because of his deficiencies in Latin and Greek. For his fall-back plan, he earned a medical degree from Harvard Medical School, followed by spending four years as a medical missionary in China. It was during his time there that he saw epilepsy firsthand, and upon his return to the States, he devoted himself to the study of the disease, as a teacher and researcher at Harvard. In time, he became known as the “father” of the modern epilepsy movement in the US.*

Also, along the way, he wrote The Health and Turnover of Missionaries, in 1933. I referred to this book in my post “What Is the Average Length of Service for Missionaries on the Field? The Long and the Short of It, ” and having found a copy since then, I’d like to share more from this extensive study.

Before diving into the more recent findings, Lennox begins by taking a broad look back at “the entire journeyings of the missionary host.”

  • In the more than 100 years of Protestant missionary work preceding the book’s publication, approximately 75,000 missionaries had gone out, providing around 1 million years of service.
  • Their efforts resulted in 110 national Christians per missionary, or 8.3 for each year of work.
  • These missionaries served an average of 12.5 years, with those married averaging 13.7 years, and singles, 8.5 years.
  • By 1923, there were over 29,000 missionaries—representing 826 societies and committees in Europe, the United States, and Canada—serving abroad.

Then Lennox takes a narrower view, concentrating on workers sent out by six foreign missionary boards: the American Board, the board of the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America, the general and women’s boards of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and the general and women’s boards of the Northern Baptist Convention. Findings from these groups were also supplemented with survey results from an additional 28 missionary societies from the US, Canada, and Great Britain.

The first missionary from these six boards went abroad in 1812. By 1880, the number of cross-cultural workers from these groups had surpassed 1,000, and by 1932, the total had grown to 4,263. This last figure represents about one-third of Protestant missionaries from North American and about one-sixth of those from around the globe at that time.

Here are some of the data derived from these six boards:

  • In 1830, 49% of missionaries were female. In 1929, women made up 69% of the missionary workforce.
  • For those missionaries entering service after 1900, the most frequent age to set sail was 26 for males and 25 for females.
  • When looking at the length of time overseas, Lennox took two perspectives: counting missionaries sent out in a given period, and counting those who returned in a given period. In the first category, for the 120 missionaries who went abroad before 1830, the average length of service was 18 years. Of the eight decades covered for the sending-out years (1810-1889), the lowest average length of service was recorded from 1830 to 1839, at 15.5 years, and the highest was slightly more than 20 years, for those heading out from 1860 to 1869.
  • When switching to the years in which missionaries ended their service, the studied timeframe covered 1860 to 1928. The lowest average, a little over 10 years, came from those who withdrew (or died in service) from 1890-1899, while those leaving between 1910-1919 averaged a high of between 13 and 14 years.
  • From 1920 to 1928, 10% of female missionaries who withdrew and 15% of male missionaries who withdrew left after serving for 40 years or more.
  • For the whole group of 12,774 missionaries serving up to 1928, the average length of service was 12.4 years. The two-thirds who had already left their service averaged 11.9 years, and the one-third still active averaged 13.4.
  • During the time covered in the study, the “usual term” of service was considered “six or seven years, followed by a year of furlough,” but the end of those first terms did not mark a high point in attrition. Rather, the largest number of missionary withdrawals, 9%, occurred during the third year, with 34% leaving in years 2-5. By the seventh year, half had withdrawn.

At this point I’ll return to the quotation at the top of this post: “The opinion is often expressed that the present-generation missionary does not view his work as a work for life.” It’s the kind of sentiment that sounds as relevant today as it did in 1933—maybe even more so. After making this statement, though, Lennox then goes on to show that the missionaries of his day were actually serving longer, on average, and the proportion of “lifelong” service was increasing compared to their predecessors.

It would be difficult to make the same claim today, as it seems that lengths of missionary service are growing shorter. But determining with precision the details of the current situation is difficult. As seen above, when we count up years of service, it is always a look back. Sometimes it’s a more distant look, when we wait until all those who began in a particular time period have withdrawn. More often, though, we look at the more recent past, considering all those who left their service during a certain timeframe, including in our calculation the long-termers from yesterday but excluding those who may stay for a lifetime tomorrow.

Each way of counting helps us gain understanding, though the two produce different outcomes. Lennox took both approaches, and with a plethora of data, he was able to compare and interpret the results, taking into consideration such things as changing circumstances overseas, evolving missions policies back home, global events, increases in the missionary population, and the list goes on.

An accurate analysis of data today will require the same kind of considerations, helping us answer several questions: Is there currently a gap, as there was in the early 1930s, between opinion and reality? And if so, how wide is it? How much are any changes in length of service due to the environment on the field or to shifting strategies or to the missionaries themselves? How are generational attitudes affecting plans and outcomes?  Are we truly living out long-lasting trends toward shorter service? Is it too early to say?

Half of the equation comes from answering How long do missionaries stay? The other half comes from answering Why do missionaries leave? For both, we can get insights into the present situation by looking at the past.

To that end, in Part II of this discussion, we’ll delve into The Health and Turnover of Missionaries again and consider the reasons for attrition for those who’ve gone before.

*As obituaries tend to do, Dr. Lennox’s praises the high points of his life while neglecting the less than laudatory. As I researched more about him, I found that in addition to being a pioneer in the field of epilepsy treatment, Lennox also came to be a proponent of eugenics, including euthanasia. While those viewpoints don’t impinge on his analysis of the missionary data provided him, and while his attitudes were not uncommon at Harvard and among the general population in that era, I don’t want to ignore this aspect of his life as I bring attention to his work.

(William Gordon Lennox, The Health and Turnover of Missionaries, Methodist Book Concern, 1933; “William Lennox Obituary,” The New York Times, July 23, 1960 (at Lasker Foundation, retrieved from the Internet Archive Wayback Machine)

Photo by Made By Morro

What is the Average Length of Service for Missionaries on the Field? The Long and the Short of It

Before you read on, I want you to take a shot at answering the question in the title of this post. Don’t think on it too long. Just go with your gut.

What is the average length of service for missionaries on the field?

Have an answer? OK, what number did you come up with? And if your number were true, would you consider it a sign of hope or a reason for concern? What would you think if I told you the real average is 4 years? What about 8? What about 12?

For insight into the actual statistics, let’s go to ReMAP II, the 2003 survey of mission agencies conducted by the World Evangelical Alliance. In an article looking at the survey’s results, Jim Van Meter, part of the ReMAP II steering committee, writes that for career missionaries from the US who left the field in 2001 or 2002, the average length of service was 12 years. (Here, “career missionaries” means those planning on spending three or more years abroad.)

So there you have it . . . 12 years.

Before moving on, I do want to address this number’s shortcomings. First, it shows a snapshot from nearly 20 years ago. While it would be great to have more-current data, extensive surveys such as ReMAP II aren’t conducted every year, so we have to go with what’s available.

Also, the figure covers US missionaries only. I wish I could give you a global number, but I haven’t seen that derived from ReMAP II, and I don’t have access to the survey’s raw data to try to work that out on my own. Even if it were available, though, a worldwide figure might not be as helpful as looking at each country’s numbers individually. But in this case, the figure from the US is still significant as it involves agencies representing 15,087 missionaries, which make up nearly 40% of the total (over 38,700) covered by the survey.

The 12-year figure also tracks with other overall numbers provided by ReMAP II. In the first chapter of Worth Keeping: Global Perspectives on Best Practice in Missionary Retention, the editors use data from the survey to show that missionaries in “high retaining agencies” stayed for an average of 17 years, while those in “low retaining agencies” averaged 7.

I also found two PowerPoint presentations online based on ReMAP II results that provide global comparisons:

  • Concerning missionaries from “Older Sending Countries” (from agencies in Australia, Europe, New Zealand, North America, and South Africa), those from high-retaining agencies stayed for an average of 15.5 years, while those from low-retaining agencies averaged 7.9.
  • For those from “Newer Sending Countries” (from agencies in Latin America, Africa, and Asia)—which, by definition, haven’t been sending out missionaries for as long—the respective lengths of service abroad were 10 years for high-retaining agencies and 6.3 years for low-retaining.

Back to 12 years. Does that number surprise you? Is it higher than you thought it would be? If you’re like me, your answer is yes to both questions.

Before I began working on this post, I’d heard people say that missionaries stay an average of fewer than five years. At the time, that seemed somewhat low to me, but not so low that I could confidently dismiss it. But if 12 years is accurate, then where do the low numbers come from, and why do they at least sound good enough to be repeated? I think I’ve come up with a few possibilities:

  • The current dominant message is that, overall, missionaries today aren’t staying long enough overseas. So when we come across low estimates, they affirm that belief and get our attention, and those are the numbers we tend to remember and pass on. Conversely, we don’t repeat a figure like 12 years because it doesn’t seem short enough to validate that attitude . . . though it could be. Van Meter points out that those workers who leave at 12 years are “in their prime of service,” heading back “just when [they] are ready to enter that phase of ‘unique contribution’ in their ministry.”
  • A higher figure makes sense when we remember to factor in those missionaries who stay for decades beyond the average. Their length on the field, though, is offset by the number of individuals who return more quickly (many on the average’s other side). This volume and movement in the lower range is often more noticeable than the steady accumulation of years by the longest serving.
  • Also, if we assume that today’s missionaries, on average, will spend less time abroad than their counterparts in the past, it’s easy to discount those who’ve been on the field for the longest time, since they’re the product of a different generation. Maybe the trend toward shorter service is actually already in place, but only hindsight from a vantage point in the future will let us know that for sure.
  • And asking what the “average length of service” is is different from asking how long the “average missionary” stays overseas. In this case, the years of service for the typical missionary would probably be lower than 12 (at least I assume that’s true). How much lower? That would be interesting to know.

In 1933, a former medical missionary in China and professor at Harvard Medical School, William Gordon Lennox, wrote The Health and Turnover of Missionaries. It discusses various reasons for missionary attrition, giving special attention to life expectancy on the field. A synopsis of the book, in the March 10, 1934, issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association contains the following, showing just how much things have changed over the last nearly 200 years:

In recent years there has been a curtailment in the financial support and in the number of persons who volunteer for service as foreign missionaries. In 1928 the medical secretaries of four large American boards requested that an analysis of the data in their medical files be made so that their judgments might be based on scientific knowledge rather than on general impressions. . . . There have been 75,000 workers, of whom 48,000 were women, in more than a century of Protestant missionary work. Only 25,000 of the total are still active. Of the 50,000 who have left the work, 10,000 died while actively engaged and 40,000 left in order to rest or to enter other employment. The death rate and the resignation rate among the women missionaries were greater than among the men. The average length of the period of service of these missionaries has been twelve and a half years.

(Jim Van Meter, “US Report of Findings on Missionary Retention,” World Evangelical Alliance, December 2003; Rob Hay, et al, eds., Worth Keeping: Global Perspectives on Best Practice in Missionary Retention, William Carey, 2007; “ReMAP II—Retaining Missionaries—Agency Practices: Older Sending Countries in Europe and North America,” published online by Mavis O’Connor; “ReMAP II—Retaining Missionaries—Agency Practices: Newer Sending Countries from Africa, Asia and Latin America,” published online by Hailie Rains; “Book Notices,” The Journal of the American Medical Association, March 10, 1934)

[photo: “Behind the Clock, Musée d’Orsay,” by Erika, used under a Creative Commons license]

Family Factors in Missionary Attrition

by Andrea Sears

Forging ahead with the results of our returned missionary survey

The first major section of the report has to do with factors related to family dynamics (nuclear and extended). We measured the frequency and strength of influence on the return decision for the following statements considered to be family-related factors:

  • I was single and I felt that I would find my spouse back in my home country.
  • I wanted to start a family and have children in my home country.
  • I experienced marital issues.
  • My kids were not adjusting well.
  • There was a lack of options for my child/children’s education.
  • I sent my kids to college.
  • I wanted to be close to my adult children.
  • I wanted to be close to my grandchildren.
  • I wanted to be close to my aging/ailing parents.
  • I felt that my extended family needed me.

For each of these statements, we asked them to choose one of the following 5 answers:

  • I did not experience this on the mission field.
  • I did experience this, but it had no effect on my decision to leave.
  • This had a slight effect on my decision to leave.
  • This had a moderate effect on my decision to leave.
  • This had a strong effect on my decision to leave.

Click here to see the full report with tables and charts and all sorts of cool data. I can’t include near that level of detail here.


Discussion of Quantitative Results

The first striking observation is the sheer number of missionaries that are experiencing these family stress factors. Six out of ten of the factors have higher than 50% incidence rates, indicating that the majority of missionary families will deal with them at some point.

Compared to people living in their passport countries, who may not have the additional marital, family, and educational challenges of the mission field (not to mention factors from the other sections of this study, including financial, cultural, etc.), missionaries are subject to a compounding effect as these stressors accumulate. The high percentages of missionaries experiencing each factor guarantees that each family is experiencing multiple family stressors, perhaps serially over time, or perhaps at the same time.

Marital issues, adjustment and education of the children, and wanting to be near family that need them in their passport country (college students, adult children, parents, or other extended family) are all important issues for missionaries to balance with their overseas ministry, since over 50% of participants who experienced those issues felt that they affected their return decision to some degree.

Educational options for the children and having aging/ailing parents that need care are the two strongest family factors in making a decision to return to the passport country, according to the weighting of responses given.

The full report gives a more detailed discussion of the results for each question and the possible reasons for those results.

We also wanted to compare the responses generationally to see if there are factor differences related to age. Do younger and older missionaries have a different experience or different values that impact their return decisions? To check for this, we selected the subset of survey respondents who were under 30 when they went to the mission field, on the field less than 10 years, and left the field less than 10 years ago. This subset accounted for 190 of the surveyed individuals.

When the subset of younger missionaries is compared with the overall sample on family factors, several differences can be seen. Younger missionaries were:

  • More likely to report the experience of singles feeling their spouse would be found in their passport country (89% versus 71% in the overall sample).
  • More likely to report that they wanted to start their family in their passport country (49% versus 27%).
  • Less likely to report marital problems (41% versus 54%).
  • Less likely to report kids’ adjustment problems (33% versus 58%).
  • Less likely to report concern about educational options for their children (38% versus 64%).
  • Less likely to report wanting to be near aging/ailing parents (35% versus 50%), but it was still the highest strength index in the family factor group (1.11).

This makes sense, as given the age of the missionaries while they were on the field, they were more likely to still be in the single or child-bearing years. If they had children, they were likely young enough to be more adaptable and easier to educate with available options. And this generation of missionaries didn’t experience issues like sending kids off to college or wanting to be closer to adult children or grandchildren at all.


Qualitative Data on Marital Issues

In addition to the quantitative scaled information, we collected open comments on the following question: “If you experienced marital issues and you feel comfortable sharing, please describe them.”

Hundreds of comments were provided and helped to delve into the reasons that missionaries struggle with marriage and family issues on the field.

These were the most common issues we heard about that produced marital stress:

  • extreme stress, coupled with the isolation, of living overseas
  • a lack of friends to talk to about problems
  • the all-consuming nature of the mission work and the pressures of working closely together in a shared career
  • not taking the necessary time out of the work context to nurture their marriage and spouse or to process things together
  • temptations to neglect those closest to them in order to perform well in the ministry
  • one spouse’s depression, burnout, or anxiety that affected their closest relationships negatively
  • anger at the way a spouse was (or was not perceived to be) coping with life overseas
  • disappointment (usually of the wife) with her lack of a fulfilling role in the ministry
  • the pain of the trailing spouse (again, more frequently the wife) who didn’t want to be on the mission field but had submitted to her husband’s call to life overseas

The full report contains more detail and quotes from comments given to illustrate these points if you want to delve in deeper.


Qualitative Data on Children’s Adjustment Issues 

We also collected open comments on the following question: “If your kids were not adjusting well and you feel comfortable sharing, describe specifically why.”

Again, hundreds of comments were provided. Here are some of the most common:

  • looking different, standing out, and receiving unwanted attention in the form of staring, touching, teasing, or even bullying
  • isolation and the lack of friends or a social group
  • grief as a result of leaving behind friends, family, or adult siblings in their passport country
  • resentment or anger toward parents over their decision to go to the mission field
  • having parents that are distracted by a million other things and find their ability to parent compromised in the chaos
  • depression and anxiety as they struggle to cope with the many transitions in their lives

Again, more details and stories on this in the full report.



While family factors have typically been considered non-preventable by other studies, some of them ARE preventable with the proper preparation, care, and treatment. The following areas should be revisited within mission agencies and sending churches, regarding how well they promote the health and welfare of marriages and families:

  • the selection process
  • preparation, training, and expectation-setting
  • missionary care
  • mission policy
  • work-life balance

(More detail and a discussion of each area in the full report.)

But in the end, no matter how phenomenal a job our mission agencies or sending churches do in safeguarding and caring for our families, it is every missionary’s responsibility to ask him/herself some hard questions:

  • Am I too proud to reach out for help when I need it and be real about struggles with my friends, family, supporters, sending church, or mission agency? Am I trying to perpetuate the missionary pedestal or save my funding by presenting only the best face?
  • Am I driving a wedge in my marriage by judging my spouse, or not offering the emotional support that they need?
  • Am I a workaholic? Am I willing to sacrifice the needs of my family to the ministry?
  • Am I allowing life overseas and my ministry to distract me from parenting and tending to my children’s needs (and griefs?

Our families have been granted to us by God and are our most important ministry and opportunity to serve. Our intimacy with our spouse or the well-being of our children should never be sacrificed to our ministry. Our ministry vision must be realigned to include ministry within our families (for both women AND men) if we want longevity and health on the mission field.


Andrea Sears is co-founder of the ministry giveDIGNITY, which works in the marginalized community of La Carpio in San Jose, Costa Rica. The ministry focuses on Christ-centered community development initiatives in education, vocation, and violence prevention. Her family has been in Costa Rica for 8 years, and served as the Missionaries in Residence at John Brown University during the 2017-2018 year while on furlough.

More Results: Continued Analysis of the Missionary Attrition Survey

by Andrea Sears

Remember that survey of returned missionaries? The missionary who conducted it (me) wrapped up her furlough, headed back to Costa Rica, weathered 2 months of absolute craziness (only part of which is contained in this blog post) and is now finally able to refocus on publishing the results. I am sorry for the delay, as I know many have shown interest in seeing the results!

The decision to “head home” from the mission field is a complex one, to put it lightly. Sometimes that decision is made for us (our term is up, the agency doesn’t allow us to stay longer, it’s time to retire, etc.), but other times we have to decide when the time is right to move on.

We have a lot of different things to consider. Here are just a few of them:

  • Of course there’s our “call” and whether it’s “completed” or we feel a “release” from the call by God, or if we believe He wishes us to continue.
  • Then there’s fundraising: “do we have enough money to live on?”
  • Practical things can’t be ignored, like how our kids are doing, options for their schooling, and who might need us back home.
  • Our own physical or mental health, or that of our spouse or children, can create a need to return for healing’s sake.
  • Life happens, sometimes creating trauma, injury, war, or other conditions that preclude our continuing.
  • And difficulties with our team or agency or co-workers may seem too dysfunctional to overcome, or we might be part of the problem and unwilling to admit it and make changes.
  • And sadly, if we are honest, in the mix of all of this is our own pride:
    • Does leaving mean I have failed?
    • What will God feel about me if I leave?
    • What will my donors think if I leave?
    • Being a missionary makes me “somebody.” What will I be back in my own culture?

In order to be able to share the full-length survey results with anyone who is interested, I have set up a web site to publish the results section by section as I write them up. The site is www.themissionsexperience.weebly.com, for those who want to read the complete “Overview of Survey and Methodology” section. You can subscribe to get updates when new sections are published. And I’ve got a resource list of helpful books and web sites about different aspects of missions.

What follows is a blog-sized teaser of the overview section, setting the stage for understanding and contextualizing the results sections.



The survey was distributed electronically through a variety of networks including popular missionary blogs, the Missio Nexus web site, personal networks, and appeals to forward the survey on to other possible participants. Participants self-selected if they felt they had the time to participate in the survey and were former overseas missionaries who had returned to their “home” country.

Demographic information was collected for each participant, including:

  • gender,
  • ethnicity,
  • age (currently and at time of departure for the mission field),
  • marital status,
  • number of children in the home on the mission field,
  • passport country,
  • religious denomination,
  • mission agency,
  • years on the mission field,
  • countries served,
  • type of work done,
  • language study,
  • funding, and
  • years since leaving the mission field.

Survey questions were grouped into the following 8 sub-topics:

  • Family
  • Team
  • Host country
  • Physical Health
  • Expectations
  • Spiritual
  • Financial
  • Mental health

For each sub-topic, a list of statements (e.g., “I was homesick.”) was provided with instructions for the participant to rate each statement with an answer from the following 5-point scale:

  • I did not experience this on the mission field.
  • I did experience this, but it had no effect on my decision to leave.
  • This had a slight effect on my decision to leave.
  • This had a moderate effect on my decision to leave.
  • This had a strong effect on my decision to leave.

These response options allowed us to measure three important pieces of information for each potential factor, increasing in specificity at each level:

  1. The proportion of missionaries experiencing each factor (answering the question: “how common is this experience on the mission field?”),
  2. The proportion of missionaries that felt that the experienced factor impacted their return decision (answering the question: “does this factor tend to impact the return decision or not?”), and
  3. The strength of the impact of each factor on the return decision (answering the question: “how heavily does each relevant factor weigh in the return decision?”).


Open-Ended Questions

In addition to the scaled responses, several sub-topics had open-ended follow-up questions where participants could share more details or stories (e.g., “If you experienced marital issues and feel comfortable sharing more, please describe them.”). Many heartfelt stories were shared, for which we are grateful. These responses were analyzed qualitatively to look for central themes or particularly poignant quotes that illustrated an important concept.


Overall Factor Weighting Results

Finally, each participant was asked to try to quantify the weighting of each factor in their decision, summing to 100%.

When the overall weightings assigned to each factor are averaged across all survey participants, the following list shows the ranking of each category in terms of perceived importance in making the decision to return to the passport country:

  1. Family: 25.7%
  2. Team/agency: 22.3%
  3. Other (miscellaneous factors not mentioned in other categories): 10.3%
  4. Health: 10%
  5. Mental health: 9.5%
  6. Host country: 6.6%
  7. Spiritual: 6.5%
  8. Financial: 5.2%
  9. Expectations: 3.9%


The next section of analysis will be about family factors, the most heavily weighted category in the return decision for many missionaries. Stay tuned.


Andrea Sears is co-founder of the ministry giveDIGNITY, which works in the marginalized community of La Carpio in San Jose, Costa Rica. The ministry focuses on Christ-centered community development initiatives in education, vocation, and violence prevention. Her family has been in Costa Rica for 8 years, and served as the Missionaries in Residence at John Brown University during the 2017-2018 year while on furlough.

Beating the Drum for Missionary Care: An Interview with Neal Pirolo

In her post “Closer to the Truth about Current Missionary Attrition: An Initial Analysis of Results,” Katie Rowe looks at the findings of a recent survey of missionaries, showing that respondents rated “lack of missionary care” as one of the most common reasons for leaving the field. One of those who commented on the post was Neal Pirolo, author of Serving as Senders—Today: How to Care for Your Missionaries as They Prepare to Go, Are on the Field and Return Home, and The Reentry Team: Caring for Your Returning Missionaries. The current edition of Serving as Senders—Today is a revision of the original, first published in 1991. Since then, it has been translated into 20 languages and has nearly a half million copies in print.

In reference to missionary/member care, Neal wrote, “I have been ‘beating this drum’ since 1976!” I contacted Neal to get his long-term perspective, and he graciously agreed to answer my questions (and along the way, with his wife’s help, remembered that the year was actually 1978).

Why was 1978 a starting point for you to begin your drumbeat for missionary care? 

Oftentimes, telling a story communicates better than “just the facts.” Let me tell a story:

I went to Brazil to administer the five schools Wycliffe/SIL was using at the time for missionary children. My wife was given the responsibility of overseeing the Group House in Cuiaba. We had a choice: move our family of six in with all the singles or move from house to house every three months as translators went to their villages and back. We moved in. We looked in the refrigerator. Every item had someone’s initials on it. We looked at each other. “This will not work,” our eyes said to each other. But how do you change a group of people so entrenched?

On the second evening, we were all in the kitchen trying to quickly clean up and get to a meeting. Someone pulled hard on the fridge door. It came off its hinge! It fell forward, dumping all the contents on the floor. After the clean-up, my wife said, “We will be doing things differently now.” We became a family.

To make a long story short, in those two and a half years, we lost all sense of personal ownership. Everything became ours. Even our bedroom became the crying room for several single women who were being teased beyond reason about getting married.

Well, in 1978, we came home. At the office, a working partner was using a new Bic extra-fine felt-tipped pen. (They had not been around when we went to Brazil.) I admired it. He let me try it. It made such a smooth and clear script. I liked it. The next day he brought one and gave it to me. He gave it to me! It was mine. I owned it! Every so often, I would stop writing and just look at that 79-cent Bic pen and realize that I owned it. It was mine! His first look at me was quizzical. Then he smiled an understanding smile. And we went back to work.

There is a chapter in The Reentry Team titled “Silly Little Things.” Silly little thing after silly little thing can create an apprehension in returning missionaries making them wonder “what next?” Bit by bit the reservoir of resistance to the uncertainty of these silly little things can become “the final straw.” Only those trained in missionary care will see the need to help them process even those silly little things.

After returning from ministry in Brazil. I was given the position of director of the San Diego School of Evangelism and missions pastor of the sponsoring church. SDSE was a ministry school with a very strong emphasis on cross-cultural outreach (missions). Even as the students made their application to the school, I encouraged them to develop a team of ten people who would be supportive of them, for they were entering this school with a life of ministry before them. Then, to those who wanted to minister cross-culturally, we gave further training in living and ministering in a second culture, with the support team becoming more fully developed around the areas of care Paul commended the Christians of Philippi for providing for him.

You’ve had 40-plus years of watching the missionary landscape and listening to missionary stories. From what you have seen and heard, how have the member-care needs of missionaries changed—and how have they stayed the same?

Missionary care is multi-leveled and diverse. In its fullest sense, it brings to play four levels of involvement: church care, partnership care, agency care, and crisis care. Each level is good at certain aspects of need and not so good at other aspects. But it is interesting that as the first three function at their strength, the fourth level is less needed. It is diverse in that each member of the family, as a unique individual, has different needs, and different needs at different times. It is quite intense. Thus, there’s the need for a cooperation between all parties, including the missionary, in providing missionary care.

The need for missionary care has not changed through the years. The enemy who raised havoc in Paul’s day is the same enemy who is waging war with the saints today. Through world travel and communication networks people may be more aware of the needs of missionaries. However, Paul, the Apostle, in writing a letter to the Philippian Christians, acknowledged their care for him in six areas: encouragement, prayer, logistics, communication, finance, and reentry. He opens the letter by calling them “partners in the Gospel”! And every missionary today needs “partners in the Gospel” to provide care in those six areas.

What has changed is a greater awareness of that personal/relational/partnership level. It is a group of people who have come together as a team and have taken “ownership” of the specific work of a specific missionary. With this level of commitment, they are more likely to see the mission through to its completion. They are as concerned as the missionary is about the outcome of their efforts. They see the missionary as their “field representative,” but they, in their respective roles, are equally vital to the end goal.

The prayer coordinator of one partnership team saw a photo of a young lady with her head on the shoulder of a missionary she and her team had sent out. When she saw it, she said, “I want to know if this young lady is distracting Byron from the work that we sent him to do!” That’s ownership. That’s commitment. That’s missionary care.

Partnering in that way takes trust. What can missionaries and senders do to develop that kind of relationship?

Here is the first part of Byron’s story:

Byron had just come back from a short-term ministry trip to China, and he believed God wanted him to return long term. Very quickly, because he had been active in his home church, the leadership confirmed his call. The missions pastor brought him that news with a copy of Serving as Senders—Today. “Byron,” Dan said, “read this book and begin developing your partnership team.” Byron’s reply? “I’m not gonna read dat book! I’ve got the Bible and that’s all I need!” Gently, but firmly Dan responded: “Byron, we can’t keep you from going to China, but if you want us to send you, you will read this book and develop your partnership team.” He began reading. One by one, he sought out and gained a commitment from a core leadership team. He began having meetings on the last Sunday of each month. No pressure. No commitment. But at each meeting, as Byron shared his enthusiasm and God-directed commitment to this ministry, more and more people prayed and decided it was something they wanted to be a part of. Byron was allowing them to “own” this ministry. As each made a commitment to provide care in one or another of the six areas, they related with the core leadership for that area. These commitments were not on a “management team” level. These people had prayed about their decision. A trust in the Lord and in each other was being developed. In nine months, Byron was ready to be sent by his home church. Though 14 years have passed, and many changes have taken place in his ministry (he did marry that young lady), many on that original team are still partnering with him.

Byron’s is a success story of beginning—and continuing—cross-cultural ministry with a partnership team. There are some missionaries, though, who’ve been on the field for several years and who find themselves, for whatever reason, without such support. Maybe they’re feeling distant from the people “back home.” What advice would you give them for taking steps to fill this need?

Craig, you are making this so easy for me! Another story:

Maria was sent out (more like . . . said “good-bye” to) by her church. They and she knew nothing about partnership teams. She struggled. (That’s an understatement!) She was observing another missionary family who was doing so well. One day, they invited her to a Bible study. Their missions pastor had prepared a study—just for them. He had flown to their city only for this reason: to share the Word with them and encourage them.

Maria was aghast! “How? Why? What?” she wondered. She drew up energy to ask them. In the conversation, she discovered how they had developed a partnership team. Their finances were in order; hers were almost nonexistent. They had an active prayer team; she doubted anyone remembered where she was. Their missions pastor had made a special trip to encourage them; she didn’t know if her church still had a missions pastor.

She came home. Yes, there was a missions pastor, but he was busy with 35 missionaries out around the world. Her name was on the list, but she had never received anything from the church, except one time: They had sent her a USA bank check. It had been returned for additional postage and sent again. In her country, she could not cash it.

Well, another one of the pastors heard her story and decided to do something. He arranged for her to share at all of the home fellowships to educate them about partnership teams. Then he sent a copy of Serving as Senders—Today to each of the 35 missionaries, with a note: “Read this book. If you would like me to help you develop a partnership team, pray, then send me the names of two or three you believe could become the core leader of your team.” For those who responded (When I heard this story, I couldn’t believe that some did not respond!), he went to the people named and asked them to prayerfully consider taking on this responsibility. From there, the core leader wrote to the missionary, obtained the names of their friends, and asked permission to write to them. A team was developed.

This way is a bit more difficult than if the missionary develops the team before going. For Maria, it worked by her taking the drastic step of coming home and God leading her to a pastor who would “carry the ball.” It would be even more difficult if there were no one in leadership to assist the missionary or for the missionary to manage it from the field. However, all missionaries have someone who has shown interest in their ministry who could help facilitate it from their home country. I cannot over emphasize, from my experience with missionaries who have a developed partnership team and those who don’t, it is clear: Whatever it takes, it is worth your effort to develop this level of missionary care.

This is not to negate the need for the other three levels of missionary care. There are functions that the agency can do well that the other three cannot, likewise, for those at the church and crisis levels of care. When each level functions well at what they are best equipped to do, a missionary is well cared for, to the glory of God!

Neal serves as founding director of Emmaus Road International, which provides many member-care resources through its websiteThey include Byron’s complete story, “I’m Not Gonna Read Dat Book!” and the audio of a talk Neal has given entitled, “Partners in the Gospel,” both at ERI’s Free Media Library.

You can purchase Serving as Senders—Today from ERI, with discounts for bulk orders. And to those missionaries now on the field wanting to set up a partnership team, Neal extends this offer: If you email him the names of two or three people you have prayed about who might be willing to take on the leadership of a team, he will send them a copy of Serving as Senders—Today, with a letter encouraging them to “step up to the plate” and assist you in developing your team. You can reach Neal at Neal_Pirolo@eri.org.

[photo: “Drum,” by André Prata, used under a Creative Commons license]