Our perception of an experience can be greatly colored by our expectations. On the one hand, missionaries tend to understand that they must hold any expectations lightly as they travel to live in another country. They know that with so much change in their lives at once, the nature of some of those changes will surely be unexpected and surprising. They 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 for 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, and their potential role in causing missionary attrition. For if we find that they are an issue, we can do a better job in setting them accurately. And if they are not an issue, we can focus on other factors that do have more impact on turnover.
We measured the frequency and strength of influence on the return decision for the following statements considered to be expectation-related factors:
The following table summarizes the results for each question by providing:
Discussion of Quantitative Results
Half or more missionaries experienced disconnects between their expectations and reality with regard to:
(1) team members – 62%,
(2) community – 58%,
(3) relationships back home – 54%,
(4) ministry results – 52%, and
(5) job responsibilities – 50%.
Nearly half felt inadequately prepared for life on the mission field (44%) and that their family life did not meet their expectations on the field (43%). These are all significant enough portions of the population to consider these experiences normative for missionaries.
When we consider how these factors affected missionaries’ decisions to leave the field, we find that the biggest issues factoring into attrition were:
(1) team members – 65%,
(2) job responsibilities – 64%,
(3) community – 61%, and
(4) family life – 56%.
When we consider the strength of the factors, we also see that the most significant were:
(1) team members – 1.29,
(2) job responsibilities – 1.11,
(3) community – 1.02, and
(4) family life – 0.94.
The strength ranking mirrors exactly the percentages reporting that the factors affected their attrition, indicating that these are the top factors regarding expectations in both percent of people weighing them into their return decision AND the weight given to those factors.
The top concern about team members correlates with the findings in the team section that it is one of the issues causing the most attrition on the mission field. Given the strength of certain factors in the team section, we would expect to see here that expectations were not always met in that regard. However, it is not the only thing that did not meet expectations. There was also considerable dissonance between expectations and reality regarding job responsibilities, community, and family life on the field.
Culture was of very low concern to missionaries when it did not meet their expectations, probably because they knew it would be different from any expectations they formed and went into the situation expecting to be surprised. Relationships back home, while commonly different from expectations, did not weigh heavily into return decisions. While many missionaries experience dismay that it is harder than expected to keep in touch and cultivate long-distance relationships, it appears that it is not something that often sends them home, given the low strength index.
Discussion of Qualitative Results
In addition to the quantitative scaled data, we collected open comments on several questions to probe more deeply. This was an apt overall response about missions and expectations in general:
“In response to the next few questions about expectations, nothing was exactly as we expected; just in general. There is no doubt about that and it was a definite stressor on the field for all of us… For future missionaries, they need to know that nothing they expected will be as they thought, so I want to ensure that’s heard.”
While job responsibility dissatisfaction was experienced by lower raw numbers of people than the other top 4 factors of this section, it ranked second in terms of how much it influenced the return decision. We would do well to pay heed. 240 comments were provided to this question, representing 32% of survey participants.
ROLE NOT AS ADVERTISED
The greatest reason for unmet expectations relating to job responsibilities was that the role they filled was not as advertised. 30% of the respondents to this question reported that their job on the ground was different than what they were told and what they went there to do. For 21% of the respondents, it was arbitrarily changed upon arrival.
“The ministry role was quite different from what was conveyed to me pre-field.”
“I thought we would be in translation work and my husband had admin duties.”
“I expected to be helping run the aviation program, so when I got asked to help with construction on a house, I understood it was part of mission work to do stuff outside what we were expecting. But when all we did was construction for 5 months without much regard to flying, it became a bit frustrating.”
“Went expecting to work in church ministry and was asked to do relief work.”
“I was given a job without much consideration of how I felt about it.”
“It was in constant flux… never matching what we agreed to do in training (providing direct support for short-term teams, guesthouse).”
“I was told I would be doing a certain ministry, but upon arrival to the country everything had changed and I found I had no role at all.”
In a smaller number of cases (5% of the commenters on this question), there was a disconnect between the agency and the locals on the ground in terms of what was needed, so the agency recruited, trained, and sent a person who was not what the team needed.
“There was a misunderstanding between the locals and the mission agency [about] my role. Took 2 years to realize it.”
“My national boss had an agenda that I didn’t know about when I accepted the assignment.”
“We were frequently told to do things that did not fit in with the culture or the mission’s core values when we joined.”
“Lack of integration into the Nepali team.”
And finally, in 4% of comments on this question, people were given the impression that they would have teammates and then ended up working alone.
“I was more isolated than I anticipated.”
“I was a midwife and was told a doctor would work with me, but I ended up working alone.”
“I was brought on to share in children’s ministry. Within weeks, my partner ditched me to do what she loved, and left me alone to do the job.”
“I was the only one on the team doing church planting while the others all worked in the marketplace, leaving me basically by myself with the church planting strategy.”
POOR FIT BETWEEN JOB AND SKILLS
The next most commonly mentioned issue regarding job expectations was poor fit. People were asked to do jobs for which they had no training or passion. Some felt their assignment did not match their call, or that they were just not good at it. This sentiment was shared by 20% of commenters on this question.
“Upon arrival I was asked to do so many things outside of my gift[ed] areas for extended periods of time. When I voiced concerns or said no, it was met with guilt, like ‘we NEED you to do this,’ ‘if you don’t do it, who will?’ or ‘this is how we do things here.’ Because I’m flexible and adaptable and didn’t want more conflict, I continued to do all those things for four years until I was too burned out and stressed to continue.”
“I felt that my team members expected things of me that I was not gifted in or capable of doing well.”
“Eventually the workload and the stress of working outside what I felt were my gifted areas played a significant part in my decision to leave.”
“I ended up having to do a lot of nursing type stuff because there were many health issues among the people we lived around. I am not a nurse and it was very hard to deal with some of these issues. But you had to because their lives depended on it.”
“I was in way over my head. I needed way more guidance and experience than I had under my belt.”
9% of commenters on this question reported that their jobs were more administrative or task-oriented than they had expected. They expected to focus on relationships, discipling, or church planting, and felt like they got mired in bureaucracy and paperwork.
“Ended up doing more administrative tasks and less teaching and workshops.”
“I was expected to fill out very lengthy paperwork about ‘significant’ conversations I was having and to categorize the relationships I was building. It was very much objectifying the people I was building relationships with.”
“I had expected to be involved in more discipleship roles with my teammate, but she left prematurely and my role ended up being more involved in Bible translation and I struggled with this aspect of ‘desk’ work that required more attention to detail and analysis than I am gifted for.”
“I was hoping to train the resident orphans in agriculture skills. When other missionaries left the field, I had to fill in their administrative positions and had no time to do what I am gifted in and passionate about. Shortage of missionaries is a perpetual problem that will not be resolved soon.”
The third most commonly mentioned issue regarding job expectations was workload. 19% of commenters on this question felt that their workload was either too much or too little, producing either stress or boredom. More people (11% of commenters) felt that they were overworked.
“I was asked to lead a bunch of ministries within the church while also having mission responsibilities that took me out of the country quite often.”
“Job responsibilities that kept piling up year after year.”
“Too much responsibility for a small staff.”
“I was given more responsibilities than I could handle. This meant that I could not take care of my family as well as I should.”
“Time expectations of the leadership for involvement in ministry were consuming.”
“Overwhelmed with the amount of work and changes.”
“We worked 5:30 am until 11 pm. Never had a break, weekend or otherwise, for over 2 years. When we left, our mission employed 5 families to do our job.”
“I replaced 3 physicians in the department. One person for [the workload of] three.”
“Having too many roles and never getting rest. And challenging the team that we needed to change how we did things or we wouldn’t last, but change never happening.”
On the other hand, 7.5% of commenters felt underutilized and not sure what to do at all.
“There was nothing for us to do.”
“I was bored sometimes and did not feel challenged enough.”
“First term they didn’t seem to know what to do with us… finally managed to cobble together a useful project our last 2 months before furlough.”
“I found I had no role at all.”
“Not being used much though our agency asked us to come to this country. Felt like we were sitting around but had to find things to tell our supporters.”
Women, more likely to be considered “trailing spouses,” more frequently reported this issue. Hoping that there would be a ministry role for them on the mission field, they were often disappointed to find that the only available role for them was at home. Women also seemed more likely to be placed in roles that were a poor fit for their skills. Since the job placement is often primarily focused on the husband, a missionary wife may have to settle for whatever is available where her husband is posted, regardless of her skills or gifting. The stereotype that women are by nature more organized can pigeon-hole women in administrative roles whether it is their personal gifting or not.
POORLY DEFINED ROLE
The fourth most commonly mentioned issue with job expectations was a poorly defined role. 18% of commenters cited this as a reason for dissatisfaction with their job. Poorly defined roles led to diffuse or confusing responsibilities, poor job fit, ever changing duties, difficulty in measuring results/progress, and mission or job drift.
“I didn’t expect to wear so many ‘hats.’”
“Felt HR could’ve done a much better job at finding an appropriate fit rather than someone semi-qualified for a poorly defined job.”
“Our job descriptions were not clear. When I requested clarity, I was told things like ‘make it better, just figure it out, do something to move things forward.’”
“It was vague and misdirected. Often I would do work that a local employee did simultaneously, rendering my work worthless.”
“Little influence or impact.”
“The job assignments were changed approximately every 6 months, so it was hard to feel stable.”
“My team gave little guidance as to what they expected, other than they didn’t like things I tried… hard to really feel like I knew my role.”
“I didn’t feel like I really knew what to do.”
“I realized that when I was told there were many things I could be a part of, that meant there were many things I could do if I created the project. And that’s just not how I’m suited. I work best plugging into a team rather than creating something new.”
PUT IN A BOX
Others found themselves very limited in the role they could play, when they had hoped for more involvement or freedom to choose their projects. 14% of commenters mentioned that they felt forced into a mold, devalued by leadership, limited in their ability to do what they went to do, or not given the authority or access they needed to do the job asked of them.
“I was told that I would never be given greater work roles or any responsibilities. I was told that since I didn’t go to college I didn’t have anything worth contributing pretty much.”
“We were asked to investigate to see if the funds that were given to native pastors for orphans were actually going to the orphans. We did extensive investigations and found many pastors who were not allocating the funds to the children. When we exposed this to our agency in the States we felt that they dismissed a lot of the findings and were not as supportive of our efforts as we had anticipated.”
“Felt limited to support roles in the ministry as I’m a young woman. Was not given the authority to lead, but was expected to manage.”
“I was under constant pressure to force any type of outreach I did into a specific church planting focus, rather than evangelism and exploration.”
“It was told to me how I was to minister and I was held tightly to a rubric.”
“The many ideas I came up with were not permissioned by head office. I was left to teach English without involvement in plans for church planting.”
A number of women who were mothers commented that they were put in a child-rearing box that prevented them from having the freedom to do ministry. Even when staying home was the plan, it could be difficult and lonely. When it was a surprise, it was an even greater shock.
“I had hoped to be more involved in ministry, but family and ‘living’ took most of my time and energy.”
“I don’t think I had realistic expectations of what I would do and achieve on the field, particularly with two, and later three, young children. Life was incredibly ordinary, rather than ‘doing great things for God.’”
“As a wife and mom, roles change from season to season, which in turn affects ministry roles. It was difficult to continue to sort that out, and to know what my expectations were to be related to ministry responsibilities.”
“We planned that I would stay home with the kids, but I felt isolated doing so there.”
“I expected to have a ministry of discipleship to local women in the church. I did not have any. I did not expect that I would have to homeschool our children; this became my primary responsibility.”
These comments echo what we have already seen and discussed about work-life balance (in the family section) and women’s roles in ministry (in the team section). It is not surprising that the theme would emerge here with regard to role/job expectations.
Finally, 12.5% of commenters felt that leadership played a role in their job expectations being unmet, echoing comments that we saw about leadership in the team section of this study.
“My spouse had 5 different bosses in 3 years. The team and the expectations were changing constantly. There was a lack of clear vision and articulation of how to meet the needs...”
“Given a job to do and then told it wasn’t done to her expectations or going behind us to do things her way.”
“No supervisor in country.”
“Lots of politics in the mission agency.”
“Too many bosses, too much responsibility, very little authority.”
“Supervisor didn’t seem to understand, appreciate, or utilize me well.”
“The denomination chose to not support us or deal with the lack of integrity and strong toxic working environment that was created by the leader.”
“I didn’t realize how much of a ‘pawn’ I felt under my team leader. That they cared more about exerting authority than asking my own opinions and how I felt about their decisions over me.”
This last comment cannot help but bring to mind Matthew 20:25-28. “Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” Even leaders in missions can forget this servant leadership principle and revert to authoritarian leadership styles that disempower those who work for them and damage teams.
The second question for open comment regarding expectations was about culture. This question received the least comment in this series of questions, with only 113 people (15.2% of survey participants) responding. Most missionaries seem to know that culture shock is coming and that having expectations about culture would be futile, as illustrated by the following comments:
“I had zero expectations from the local culture. Aim low and avoid disappointment. ;-)”
“I didn’t have many expectations, but even the few I did, I was wrong about them. I was pretty quickly forced to give up on my expectations.”
“No culture meets expectations. We live in a fallen world.”
“It wasn’t really possible to come in with realistic expectations. But that in itself was an expectation I came in with.”
Our own worldview is so ingrained in us that we hold many beliefs and values without questioning or examining them. It can be inconceivable that a person would feel or believe otherwise until we run into one of them and experience first-hand the shock of having our own assumptions for viewing the world challenged. 31% of comments on this question revolved around worldview issues related to frameworks for leadership, structure, hierarchy, communication, integrity, and work ethic.
“The more you discover about China, the more you realize how vastly and deeply different their worldview is from the Western one. I never felt like I really scratched the surface to really ‘know’ China.”
“Every move we got more Islamic culture and it was harder to live in.”
“I was naively expecting a North American mindset rather than Latino when I first arrived.”
“It was much more patriarchal than I realized.”
“We did not recognize how different leading and following was until we had made a mess.”
“Arab indirect communication styles were a huge challenge for me.”
“More words than actions.”
“I wish the locals would have taken more pride in their work.”
“Unstructured manner of all activities.”
Even when missionaries are prepared to encounter a different worldview, it can sneak up and surprise us with all the unexpected ways that it affects daily life. The constant vigilance to understand why things are happening the way that they are can be exhausting. And sometimes we are simply incapable of questioning our own worldview in order to really understand the perspective of others.
The second most prevalent cultural issue that did not meet expectations was the formation of relationships with locals. It was common for missionaries to hope for close friendships with locals, and to be disappointed when they did not happen. 27.4% of the responses to this question centered on this issue. This was caused by a number of factors, including difficulty in bridging cultural differences to reach true intimacy, relationships loaded with wrong expectations and/or prejudices, and perceived unfriendliness or hostility toward outsiders.
“I expected easier connections and relationships without expectations.”
“I had anticipated more opportunities to establish friendships with local colleagues and their families. But there was an isolation that was unexpected.”
“I expected to be more accepted into their community.”
“When I spent more time with a few, jealousies became a problem.”
“I never had the close friendship with a national that I had hoped for.”
“I’m warm and friendly and love connecting cross-culturally so I expected I’d make friends easily, which did not happen.”
Many people blamed the local culture for their unmet expectations, describing it as “cold,” “closed,” or “distant,” implying that they should have been more warm and welcoming. There was little consideration that the difficulty in forming relationships may have been related to missionary characteristics rather than the receiving culture. Inability to speak the local language at a level that allows intimacy will naturally make people less likely to pursue relationships with a missionary (unless they are based on self-interest). In some places, the missionary may be associated with a colonizing culture that is viewed with mistrust. Missionaries often give unintended offense because they are unfamiliar with the rules of the culture (see Storti’s Type I versus Type II incidents in The Art of Crossing Cultures). However, almost no one offered these as possible explanations for their relationship struggles. It may be that more training is needed in these areas to prepare missionaries better for the very real challenges of forming authentic relationships of trust with people in other cultures.
The comments here echo what we saw in the cultural factors section of this study. It is not an easy thing to form true and lasting friendship with someone who does not share your worldview and life experiences, for there is little common ground to build on. Missionaries should be aware of this to temper their expectations as they reach the mission field. Sometimes it can be a lonely and isolating place, even when you are surrounded by family, team, and locals.
The last prevalent theme that emerged in answer to this question was local conditions. Some commenters were surprised by the level of injustice, corruption, and poverty that they encountered in their host culture. 7.1% of commenters mentioned that this was difficult for them. Many missionaries know that systemic societal conditions will be vastly different than what they are used to. But there is knowing, and then there is experiencing first hand. Our advance “head knowledge” is often not enough to inoculate us against shock and dismay when we come to know and love local people that suffer poverty and injustice. Gaining this “heart knowledge” can be a truly heartbreaking experience.
“The thing that disappoints most is the perceived futility in fighting poverty. It’s hard to see significant change that can be maintained. It seems things will never change.”
“Didn’t expect the culture to be so violent.”
“Christians were severely oppressed. Evil was rampant. Children were kidnapped and abused. Women/girls were systematically treated worse. It was emotionally draining to deal with the constant theft, bribes, corruption.”
“The local cultures (in general since I’ve worked in a few) often allow powerful individuals to act with impunity and foster corruption.”
“Perhaps I didn’t expect the injustice or self-seeking to be so blatant.”
When people move from one culture to another, often blind to their own culture’s favored types of sin and brokenness, they can be shocked at the brokenness and evil in the rest of the world. One reason is that sin IS rampant all over the world. Another is that evil does have a stronger foothold in some parts of the world, especially where the Gospel is lacking. And another is that we often have ways of putting an acceptable veneer on our own culture’s sin so that it is not so ugly on the surface. Other cultures may not do so in the same ways, making it seem more obvious to the outsider.
The third question for open comment in this section was about expectations regarding ministry results. 25% of participants commented here, with the primary concern being the lack of visible fruit or the difficulty in measuring it. In distant second, third, and fourth, there were also concerns that the focus was on the wrong thing when reporting results, that their own local engagement was less than ideal, or that there was a lack of planning/focus that led to undefined or diffuse goals.
Asking a question about results may seem to imply that we are somehow responsible for the results or that there should be visible results. As one commenter shared, “We faced so many disappointments in just not seeing results no matter how hard we worked.” On the one hand, we know as Christians that God is in charge of producing the harvest. But on the other hand, we are also his laborers and want to see the expansion of his Kingdom as a result of our efforts. Sometimes our home culture condemns us if we don’t see the fruits of “our” labors. Americans especially are from a very results-oriented culture. We want to be useful and productive. If we work hard enough, shouldn’t we see something happen? It can be hard to accept that God is simply not blessing all of our efforts by producing the results that we expect.
The intent of this question is not to imply that a certain type of result is desirable or that a certain way of measuring or not measuring results is preferable. The purpose of the question is to acknowledge that not getting the anticipated results can be a reason for becoming discouraged and, ultimately, going home. The answers of missionaries reported here give us a glimpse into what is hard about seeing and measuring results on the mission field, and how it can affect morale.
Many of us go to the field passionate to change the world for Christ and see amazing impacts on the lives of the people we serve. The reality is often that the work is slow and hard, it is very difficult to measure heart change in the people with whom we share the gospel, and it can leave us feeling ineffective. 38.5% of commenters noted that ministry results were slower than they expected, they didn’t see much fruit at all, fruit was hard to quantify, or they weren’t there long enough to see the fruit of the seeds they were planting.
“It was difficult to leave the field before the work was done. There was no church planted, and only a handful of scattered believers.”
“Even after 12 years, things moved so much slower than I anticipated. You leave expecting to change the world, and run a mile, and then you realize you have to be comfortable with mere inches of change, if at all.”
“The work did not grow as quickly numerically as we expected and as we perceived that our sending church expected.”
“Concrete ‘progress’ is difficult to measure when your ministry is building relationships and discipleship.”
“Bible translation is long and arduous… In the tedium it was easy to lose the bigger picture.”
“It felt like it took all my energy to survive and the work was so long-term and slow that I couldn’t see that it made any difference for anybody.”
“Reporting zeros on a monthly basis for new believers, baptisms, new churches, etc. gets discouraging over time.”
“It was hard to be in a pioneering area, and to keep realizing more and more obstacles while continuing to press in. Eventually I realized that I had come to think of my life as working for God, being miserable, and pressing on with no expectation of anything coming from it. I was shocked when some friends started following Jesus, and then shocked that I was shocked by that.”
“I had hoped that our work would help the church to mature, but we did not see much after 15 years.”
“After a few years, our home office got tired of the slow pace and withdrew us from the country prematurely. We hadn’t completed the things we promised the locals that we would do. We were perceived by our local friends and contacts as breaking our promises, not keeping our word, and giving up on them.”
Some recognized looking back that their expectations were probably too high and they needed to adjust their perspective on exactly what they were responsible for:
“Well I’m not sure you can get ‘results’ from the lives of broken children. They’re broken when you arrive and broken when you leave. Hopefully not more damaged with another abandonment.”
“When I began ministry, I had the usual rose-colored perceptions of what it would be like and what I could accomplish where others had failed or only made insignificant advances.”
“I thought before going that I would see huge results. I realize now that ministry is often sowing seeds that you may never see grow, or that bear fruit much later after you’re gone from the field.”
“I think Westerners generally can be results-oriented, and want them quick. Discipleship around the world is much slower than we’d like. I was teaching the Bible to refugees, at one point 49% Muslim. I would have liked to see more change in some of the individuals we work with, but poverty alleviation is working against deeply-ingrained, usually dysfunctional, cycles.”
“I learned a long, difficult, painful, and wonderful lesson in the difference between being responsible for faithfulness and being responsible for results.”
MISGUIDED RESULTS FOCUS
A smaller but noteworthy group of commenters (15.4% of those responding to this question) felt that there was an inappropriate focus on numbers and results, which led to unhealthy dynamics such as ambition, competition, misguided activity, and misrepresentation of results.
“What was difficult was that the leadership was constantly pushing me to evaluate how I was going to move whatever group I was working with to become a church, regardless of the dynamic, and as quickly as possible. I don’t think it even works that way. It certainly doesn’t in the States, so it doesn’t make sense to force it in a foreign culture. There was a heavy stress on Church Planting Movement-type expectations, which aren’t realistic.”
“It ended up being mostly about reporting the numbers from evangelical outreaches, and then there was no follow up or discipleship for those people. I was highly disappointed.”
“It felt very rushed and broad instead of slow and deep.”
“Our initial plans were blocked by another mission agency that had clout in the region and target people group… they threatened us with having our visas canceled (they had government connections), belittled us, and placed a host of limitations on our ministry.”
“What we were told was happening at the mission we were going to in reality was not true. Their reach and their work had been grossly exaggerated.”
“I found so much corruption in the both the organization I worked for and the ones my friends worked for. It was stressful and often felt like so much of what we did was lie to people in America over social media to make it look like we did so much more and there were no issues.”
UNSATISFACTORY ENGAGEMENT WITH LOCALS
13.2% of commenters felt unsatisfied with their level of engagement on the field, either because they felt underutilized, did not speak the language well enough to make an impact, or made lifestyle choices that impeded their engagement with locals.
“My husband came to be the job foreman for building projects and would not be consulted when they started a job or even let him know that a job was in the works.”
“I feel as though I could have had a much bigger impact if my thoughts and opinions had been asked for and listened to.”
“I was there to provide anesthesia, but volumes never increased. I didn’t go there for one emergency C-section a week.”
“I had expected to minister more in the language, but that proved very difficult because of my lack of expertise.”
“My husband struggled with language and culture and felt like a failure.”
“I didn’t get out to the local communities and become more a part of their lives. Thus, my own choices and restrictions lessened my success as a missionary.”
“I wish I had been with a smaller, more intimate mission where I could have immersed myself differently in my ministry.”
LACK OF FOCUS/CLARITY
11.5% of those commenting felt that there was little strategy or planning that guided their work. This led to people not being sure what to do, not understanding how their role tied into the goals of the larger organization, or not understanding how to meet those goals without a defined strategy.
“The team had no clear goals or strategy to accomplish their vision. A lot of miscommunication and unmet expectations on every side.”
“Unclear how to move forward.”
“Every team meeting presented a new plan, never allowing one to grow and develop.”
“I expected our project to change and advance with the times and local economic development, but it remained the same and expected to be effective forever as it was.”
“[My team was] divided into too many goals and underutilized.”
38.6% of survey participants responded to this question. Some concerns were reiterated here that echo findings in the team section, such as leadership, integrity, conflict, and abrupt or frequent staffing changes. Others brought up new dynamics in this section, such as personality or life stage differences that made it hard to connect, communication problems, jealousy, control, and personal baggage that caused dysfunctional situations.
One wise commenter gave a very good 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.”
This person rightly recognizes that sometimes expectation issues are with the holder of the expectations. Maybe the expectations are unreasonable or naïve. We may tend to hope for an ideal and lose track of what is realistic.
On the other hand, 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. Some are actually completely reasonable, and yet things go awry and the expectations are not met. Disillusionment can ensue. 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).
The largest number of commenters (44.9%) felt that there was a level of dysfunction in interpersonal relations on their team which kept it from wholeness and health. Included in this category are pride, abuse, integrity issues, emotional baggage that made people difficult to deal with, jealousy, conflict, division, criticism, and manipulation/control.
“Brought emotional baggage that should have been worked through pre-field.”
“Mean, unkind, charged me to eat with them (I was there to teach their children), told me I wasn’t pulling my weight, looked at me as less than and a burden.”
“Our team leader was emotionally manipulative and abusive, and dishonest with us.”
“I guess I assumed that because we were all Christians and there to do ministry together that … we would at least show each other basic human decency. Things got really bad: cliques, defamation of character, intentional back stabbing, wild rumor mills, and alliances built with the intention of pushing people off the team.”
“Some treated the local people deplorably and I found it embarrassing to be in their company [in public]… Why be here if you hate the people and their customs?!”
“More dysfunction and less oversight than I expected.”
“There was a lot of territoriality and the team was kind of a mess ...”
“The truth was stretched when it was convenient. Money was misappropriated.”
“I am bewildered that Christian workers and teammates put their own desires and ego before unity and real teamwork. I’m embarrassed at the model this behavior is to our local brothers and sisters.”
“I did not expect so much drama, jealousy, gossip, slander. Before going on the mission field, we worked in church ministry for 15 years. We’ve experienced church splits, lots of nasty things from believers, but nothing could have prepared us for the unhealth of the ministry workers overseas.”
“I thought we would overcome conflict more easily due to our shared faith. Sometimes (often) I found conflict in the field has no resolution.”
“I thought our teammates would be our best friends… By the time we left I was hardly speaking to my teammates – we were just going through the motions. Our teammates ended up not returning to the field either, and if I am honest with myself I probably contributed to that.”
It is a sobering finding that nearly 1 in 5 missionaries overall felt that their team did not function in a healthy way due to serious issues with matters of character, sin, and integrity. We can be sure there are two sides to every story and that one person’s perception is not always the reality. Regardless, the prevalence of this sentiment should grieve the heart of any missionary, sending church, or missions agency. We should ask ourselves some hard questions about the testimony that we give to the world about Christians when our teams fail each other in this way.
The second most frequently mentioned observation about team expectations not being met was related to the level of cohesiveness and community that the team experienced. 23.4% of commenters felt that they did not experience the level of close friendship, social time, teamwork, and emotional support that they had envisioned. They went to the field with high hopes that their team would become like family, or be their best friends, and they just didn’t click together that way.
“I perhaps naively expected ‘team’ to mean we would be friends and community for each other, not just coworkers. I didn’t expect there to be so much negative conflict or that half the group would gel and exclude others.”
“I was kept at arm’s length and used when convenient over the course of 5 years.”
“Lack of joint projects and a sense of working toward a shared vision.”
“I expected there would be opportunities to be accountable, prayer partners, [and have] vulnerability in relationships. Instead, most people on the team generally kept to themselves other than organized times to gather.”
“We were tired and overworked a lot, most of us suffering on some level of compassion fatigue, so deeper relationships were hard to do.”
“Upon arrival in our host country, we were left to find our own way, given little to no support, we were promised mentorship and received none, we were promised transition into leadership positions where none ultimately existed.”
“I had hoped that our team would be very close and do well together. In the end I would have to say we made the partnership work but it was not easy.”
“Maybe I had different expectations from my teammates on this one, …that they would be family to us. In lots of ways they were… but they were a discouragement to us too. I thought we would work together better but there was jealousy and a breakdown in communication that we battled.”
“There was no relationship outside of the work.”
“They were very different than we expected and it was a struggle to trust and feel trusted.”
These comments highlight how expectation-laden working relationships are on the mission field. Missionaries have left their families and established communities behind, and may hope that their team members will fill in to meet their emotional needs for close relationships.
But there are also legitimate reasons that this may not work for every team. There may be physical distance between them or they may be assigned to different projects that their minimize time together. Some missionaries are “lone ranger” types that don’t feel they need others or have had bad experiences that made them wary of others. Each family is under cross-cultural and ministry stress, lessening their ability to meet the emotional needs of others. They are likely trying to focus that limited energy within their family unit and with locals in their ministry. Over time, emotional fatigue and grief sets in with the loss of so many relationships as peers and friends come and go. Some veteran missionaries respond to that by putting more self-protective boundaries in place with new people, which the newcomers perceive as unfriendliness or coldness. And finally, not everyone wants their work team to also be their neighbors, church community, social circle, and family members. Some prefer to have a number of different communities to meet their diverse needs for fellowship rather than one group that must meet all of them.
Neither the expectation holders nor the people who fail to meet the expectations are wrong or bad. Everyone is doing what they feel they need to do in order to cope with life overseas and all of its transitions and stressors. What different people need is often very different, making it difficult to know what others expect. Having team conversations about work and social relationships within the group would be helpful to avoid misunderstandings and hurt feelings by setting clearer expectations up front.
21.4% of commenters mentioned various differences that made it hard to connect with teammates or leaders. These included differences in personality, upbringing, life stage, culture, politics, priorities/interests, or coping mechanisms of people on the team. These things were no one’s fault, but did sometimes make it difficult to work together. Such differences created more potential for conflict and sometimes caused situations to escalate in unexpected ways.
“The coordinators… had no tolerance for differences in personality and NO sense of humor.”
“Didn’t mesh well with the team. Maybe it was just me.”
“Expected pretty strong personalities, but had a few team members who were pretty far on that scale.”
“Most missionaries were ‘difficult’ to work with. They didn’t get on well with others.”
“Our team was international so cultural dynamics were at play.”
“I felt unliked by [our team leaders] and that they just tolerated us. They were from a different country than us. I kind of felt like they didn’t like Americans.”
“As a single woman I was not welcomed into family, but rather was excluded.”
“Our teammates were all young and single. We were the only ones with kids on the team. They left us alone and only interacted with us when we had team meetings or dinners, which wasn’t very often.”
“Bible study and activities were always during [my child’s] nap time. It was little things like that. I felt very unsupported and alone in our small expat world.”
“Our teammates were all in their 50s while we were in our 30s. We felt many of their views were too narrow so we didn’t see eye-to-eye on many things.”
“The tone set by the vocal conservative, right-wing U.S. Christians. Because they were in the majority, they didn’t really need to adapt their views or their rules… There was a sense that if you didn’t think like them, you somehow fell short of the Christian ideal.”
“Since we all had received the same training, I assumed we would all share the same goals/perspectives/values. Sometimes the disparity was shocking.”
20% of responders cited an issue with leadership, making it the fourth most common response theme for this question. This finding echoes comments made about leadership in the team section of this survey.
“The team leader was not involving us in decisions. I didn’t feel valued by the team leader.”
“Poor leadership caused a lack of accountability in many areas. Due to this we saw issues with integrity in sexual relations … and even financial responsibility with ministry funds.”
“The three people under us were very independent and didn’t want to be led.”
“There was a lot of change in leadership that happened on our team, and some of the leaders didn’t seem to be well-qualified for the position, but it was what was most convenient at the time.”
“My team leader was unable to hear criticism and deal with conflict in constructive ways.”
“We felt constantly undermined by our direct supervisor.”
“There was an anti-intellectual culture and a very authoritarian leadership style.”
“The leadership lacked experience, training, competence and integrity and as a result bullied.”
“There was little visionary work being done and no encouragement for work well done. Our team leaders were burned out, but not leaving the field. Everything was about the task and not about relationships, either with nationals or with expats.”
“There was no clear authority figure to whom I could go with problems or to clarify my responsibilities.”
And finally, the last common theme in responses to this question touched on various forms of disengagement: lacking skills for the role, not doing much work, frequent changes and turnover that minimized impact, or not being open to progress/change. 19.3% of responses mentioned this factor as a concern.
“I did not expect 3 sets of team leaders to have to suddenly leave the country. I don’t think I had really considered the implications of constant team shifting as I headed overseas.”
“I joined a team expecting most of them to be around for many years. My wife and I were newlyweds when we joined the already established team. Within two years the other three families had all returned stateside.”
“The team was far less enthusiastic than they had been ... They were not eager to meet, cancelled meetings, did not offer up their own ideas for how to improve the teamwork.”
“Individuals that did not become part of the team. Others that totally disengaged.”
“In evolving teams you will always have a few people who do not have the cross-cultural skills they need to make a positive contribution.”
“Two of us were undertrained and the other two expected too much from us.”
“I think some people go into missions because they can’t find their place in their passport country. In other words, so many people with very few skills, but a ‘heart for missions’ end up on the field and you have to figure out how to make them fit on your team, or create a job that does fit their skills which may or may not truly add value to the team.”
“I had looked forward to a partnership with my most direct colleague, discussing ideas and possibilities together and figuring out the best option as a team. Instead, the person adamantly refused to discuss possible changes, even though the need for those changes had been identified several years earlier in a formal review of the organization.”
Comments in this area showed the need for both new and tenured missionaries to be sensitive and graceful toward one another. Older missionaries may feel the “newbies” don’t respect their experience and want to question and change everything in their enthusiasm and idealism. Newer team members may feel devalued by the experienced, as though they have nothing to contribute and the veterans aren’t open to new ideas and change. Surely understanding is needed on both sides to allow everyone to contribute their strengths, see progress in the mission, and keep everyone engaged.
21.4% of survey participants gave feedback on this question. Some of the things shared here reiterate what we saw in the family factors section of this survey. Namely, that the stressors of the mission field and managing work-life balance can adversely affect the entire family system. One commenter shared their surprise in this way:
“We just struggled beyond what I would have ever imagined! We thought our kids were more resilient and our marriage stronger. It was such a refining time!”
The top four areas ranked very close in terms of how often they were mentioned, so the order in which they are presented does not indicate any significance about their primacy.
One thing that makes family life on the mission field difficult is the isolation and loneliness, including a lack of extended family support nearby, fewer options for family activities, and the ensuing devolution into complaining and conflict. While a lot of family time can be a blessing, it can also be a source of stress and strife when there are few other outlets for socialization.
25.3% of commenters noted that isolation and loneliness changed their family dynamics. It appeared that mothers particularly struggled in isolation with kids at home, while fathers had other outlets for socialization through ministry. Singles also struggled when their hopes to find an adoptive “family” on the field did not materialize.
“No outlets for families. Lived within walls.”
“I didn’t expect to be at home alone with the kids so much while my husband traveled and did ministry.”
“We were not happy to be together all the time.”
“We had a blast together lots of times but it was just us. My kids and husband being really my only friends on the field.”
“I had no family and was totally isolated and alone. I had no friends. It was miserable.”
“No grandparents to take the kids.”
“Didn’t get through the transition and lead each other to Christ. Complained instead.”
“There was no fruit of the spirit in any of our lives and we fell into survival mode.”
ADJUSTMENT OF CHILDREN
23.4% of commenters indicated a challenge with managing children and their adjustment on the mission field. As we saw in the family factors section of this survey, some children have trouble adjusting to their new life on the mission field. Others develop issues that eventually send the family home in order to care better for them. Issues relating to the education of children can also lead to a change of plans.
“We hoped we could do ministry as a family but the children did not adjust well to the work we were doing.”
“My daughter struggled with other kids connecting to me.”
“Homeschooling was torture.”
“Our kids experienced a high level of stress and it wore on us.”
“The struggles of our children became overwhelming and we needed a less oppressive and stressful context to help them with their struggles.”
22.8% of commenters mentioned that their schedule did not allow much family time. This was sometimes because the ministry’s demands on the husband’s time (or his inability to put boundaries in place to protect family time) precluded it. This correlates with what we saw in the family factors section of this report: work-life balance is a common struggle for missionaries. Understandably, this is likely related to the previous issue of children’s well-being on the field.
“We had many months where our family did not have an entire day together during the whole month. Our schedule was very demanding and family time was a challenge.”
“No time off. No affordable vacations/holidays were possible.”
“I had expected our family life to be valued and our ministry to our family to be valued as well. Instead, it was a mentality of ‘the church always comes first.’ I felt constantly pulled and guilty and thus our family struggled more to thrive than I had hoped.”
“I felt like I was often not there for my kids.”
“The workload for my husband created such a strain on him. Incredibly long hours and relentless demands. We worked to carry the burden together but our family was exhausted.”
“Not able to enjoy each other because of lack of time, energy.”
“My husband was gone ALL THE TIME. We didn’t have a weekend as a family for years.”
“There were significant ministry commitments on weekends and evenings. With kids in school during the day, this greatly reduced family time and added stress in family dynamics.”
“We were not thriving, just surviving. You do the work and feel guilty if you’re not doing enough.”
“I failed to protect the time and attention boundaries which were needed and healthy for our family.”
22.2% of commenters shared that the stress of life on the mission field adversely affected the mental health of at least one family member, which in turn had an impact on the whole family system.
“As we wore down, things like traffic (extremely stressful in this country) and dealing with locals and language became more upsetting.”
“The crises made it difficult to relax at home and have normal family time.”
“My family ended up being in depressed, stressed out shambles for the last several months. We had intense struggles being alone in country, and our organization did nothing to help. On the contrary, they criticized what we were not getting done while there alone.”
“We struggled so much with physical health issues and moving so much, it really decreased our sense of family stability and we needed a major breath.”
“It was too unbalanced and chaotic.”
“I was surprised at the degree of stress the ministry, combined with the cross-cultural differences we had, brought to my marriage. Without a mentor, and virtually no missionary care while on the field, we were in real danger.”
“I watched as my husband struggled with health and addiction issues, which obviously greatly impacted our home life. While we had amazing support from our home church, the fact that we were on the mission field made an already difficult situation even harder.”
“Depression reared its ugly head.”
And finally, 13.3% of commenters mentioned that their missions experience negatively affected their marriage. Stress, overwork, lack of time to invest in the relationship, and differences in perspective on situations and events can easily create a cocktail of disconnection between spouses where Satan can work to destroy marriages and families.
“The ministry became more important than the marriage.”
“I thought we’d be able to keep our marriage strong. After all, we were together most of the time and working on shared goals. But we didn’t keep valuing each other as people, as best friends, as lovers.”
“Early experiences just before arriving and shortly after arriving on the field led to a rift in my marriage.”
“I did not expect the work to affect our marriage in such deep and hurtful ways.”
“My marriage suffered a little bit from local girls constantly wanting my husband’s attention. I wanted him to have clearer boundaries.”
“We were so tired!!!!! …I rarely saw or connected well with [my husband].”
168 survey participants (22.4%) commented on this question. Far and away, the greatest concern was feeling “out of sight, out of mind.” Second place concerns were a tie between logistical challenges to keeping in touch, feeling a lack of care/support, feeling an “otherness” from those the missionary was once close to, and feeling that life had moved on without them during their extended absence.
35.7% of responders said that they felt forgotten by those they had left behind. People did not stay in touch the way they hoped they would. The busy-ness of life back home made it hard for people to maintain a connection to them and a concern for them. It was as though they had “dropped off the face of the earth.”
“Almost zero replies to my newsletters, and very few emails or calls.”
“A lot of things I never heard about. For example, I found out my father became an alcoholic two weeks before returning home. My mother never told me while I was gone.”
“No one wrote to check up on us, not even our church leaders/pastors.”
“I felt abandoned by my home country friends. They rarely answered my calls for help and prayer, and even failed to connect me with the women’s bible study group which I asked on multiple occasions to join long distance just so that I could be getting some sort of group bible study in.”
“Often felt forgotten, I was depressed and didn’t initiate contact and neither did people back home. In the 2 years we were away, my parents didn’t send us anything in the post once, which was disappointing.”
“In nine years, I had one phone call each from my siblings.”
“It hurt to see that a lot of people didn’t even open our e-mails.”
“Our churches took a ‘hands off’ approach and while we appreciated their trust, we would have welcomed feeling they were more invested.”
15.5% of responders noted logistical challenges, such as time zone differences and technological access, as reasons that it was hard to keep in touch with people back home.
“The time difference was hard, internet availability was spotty.”
“Facebook and social media didn’t really exist yet.”
“Communication was very limited in some places.”
“We had to travel 2 hours south once a month to send emails.”
“I didn’t realize how 3 weeks turnaround on mail and no telephone would cause a permanent loss of many relationships.”
“A phone conversation is not nearly [an] adequate [substitute] for a cup of coffee with a friend.”
LACK OF CARE/SUPPORT
A similar proportion of responders noted that they didn’t have the care/support network that they needed from connections back home. These comments echo what we saw in the team section of the study regarding missionary care and its importance in attrition.
“Facebook is fine, email is fine… but we needed to talk with people back home, and they were too often unavailable or inconvenienced. We didn’t have the support system back home that we needed.”
“Our American church designated two ‘liaison couples’ who were supposed to be our main contact people, but connecting with them in real time was difficult.”
“I was told or given the expectation of regular visits and hands on support. This evaporated as soon as I left my country and within a short period of time my ‘sending church’ (one I had been in over 20 years) started refusing all contact with me. In the end, they left me stranded on the field with no resources at all.”
“Our home church had no idea how to practically support missionaries besides sending money.”
“Our sending church sometimes didn’t put money in our account, which …nearly resulted in us leaving the field 2 months in as our savings were gone and no monies had yet been put in… Faith churches seem to think God will step up and fill the gap if they don’t quite get round to doing as they promised.”
“We knew we had people praying for us, but I can’t remember a time when anyone reached out to us to see what we needed or how we were doing. It certainly wasn’t a regular occurrence. We were drowning in stress, family changes, work frustration, political upheaval and possible evacuation, financial challenges, and then an unexpected and unhoped-for pregnancy at the end of it all, and although we shared prayer requests, we didn’t really have any kind of member care or closer personal friends to vent to, either there or back home.”
“I think if the churches spoke to congregations about ways to support or even better understand the calling, it would change things hopefully!”
A similar proportion of survey participants noted that they felt a persistent separateness from people with whom they used to be close. Some felt that they had changed so much during their time on the field, that they no longer fit into their communities back home. Others felt that people were disinterested in their experiences because they could not relate to them. And others noted that they had been gone so long that everything had changed in their absence, a kind of Rip Van Winkle effect.
“Many people are actually not that interested in your life overseas.”
“I felt a definite distance from my parents that I hadn’t experienced before, and struggled to be able to feel understood in the breadth of our experience/disparity from them. I occasionally was discouraged by the lack of interest (or perhaps at times it was just knowing what to say) in our work there, when the sacrifice felt so all-encompassing.”
“No one wants to hear the pain. I felt very brushed off with quick solutions, like ‘we’re praying for you,’ ‘God is in control,’ etc. I hoped for someone to just understand.”
“I was becoming a foreigner in my own country.”
“After being on the field for 20 years, I felt distant from everyone… I felt unknown, unnoticed, and unloved.”
“We were gone for 18 years. Our support network had changed, moved, or passed away in that time. Our family members were there, but so much had changed.”
“Churches are so rapidly changing in folks who attend that when we would return during home assignment/deputation, it was sometimes like visiting a whole new church.”
LIFE MOVES ON
A final similarly-sized group of people simply noted that life moves on after you leave. It’s no one’s fault, but the missionary has missed out on a lot of life in the community back home. This erodes intimacy with those left behind and makes it difficult to re-insert oneself back into their lives at some future point.
“I missed marriages, births, and funerals. Not being there made it difficult to feel a strong bond with many old friends.”
“I did not understand how missing out on extended family gatherings and the lack of ability to provide comfort and care when an extended family member became sick would impact my desire to remain in country.”
“The physical and emotional distance created with family and friends from being sent is just not ever recovered.”
“Our kids were young and … were missing getting to know their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.”
“Each passing year I hear less and less from folks and rarely get to see friends and family when we visit due to short stays.”
“Life on the field is demanding and easily absorbs all your time. Staying connected to friend[s] and family back home became harder and harder, and furlough more necessary.”
“Tried to keep my feet in both places. Often felt as though I was being replaced in close friendships and that I was losing relationships dear to me. That was not the case, but at the time it was a great time of grieving.”
It was unnecessary to evaluate the responses to this section in great detail. The vagueness of the word “community” in the question caused a wide and disparate variety of responses that echoed trends identified elsewhere in the survey, but contributed nothing new to the findings, even though 154 people, or 20.8% of survey participants, commented.
A few interpreted “community” as the local community, and expressed the difficulty of truly connecting with locals due to language and cultural barriers, already seen in the cultural factors section of this report. Some interpreted “community” as the expat or missionary community, and expressed the frequent turnover of expat friends, not having access to other expats at all, or difficulty in balancing local and expat engagement. Others talked about “community” in terms of their team, and feeling loneliness or lack of support from their co-workers, already seen in the team factors section of this report and the team question in this section on expectations. Regardless of the interpretation of the word “community,” the common denominator was a feeling of disconnection and isolation, regardless of where missionaries looked for community.
According to the quantitative data, the greatest gulfs between expectations and reality for missionaries are with their team members, their job responsibilities, their ability to find a community with which they can be their genuine selves, and their family lives. In the qualitative data, we also see concern with ministry results and maintaining relationships back home. When there is a dissonance between expectations and reality, sometimes it is the expectations that need to be adjusted, and sometimes it is the reality.
The main themes that emerged regarding team member expectations on the mission field (and the percent of the total survey population mentioning the issue without prompt) were:
62% of survey participants experienced some aspect of their team members not meeting their expectations, which negatively affected their missions experience. 38.6% of them provided commentary about why. This finding confirms other studies that have found interpersonal conflict to be one of the primary reasons for missionary attrition. This is a partially preventable and partially unpreventable issue. Addressing it to the degree that we can would greatly increase the job satisfaction of missionaries.
Suggestions for reducing missionary turnover related to unmet team member expectations are:
While every missionary takes their sin nature with them to the mission field, these practices would go a long way toward avoiding preventable issues between team members. Wherever people must work together, there will always be conflict. But when handled rightly, it need not result in turnover.
The main themes that emerged regarding job responsibility expectations on the mission field (and the percent of the total survey population mentioning the issue without prompt) were:
50% of survey participants experienced some aspect of their job responsibilities not meeting their expectations, which negatively affected their missions experience. 32% provided commentary on the reasons for this. They are mostly preventable issues. Addressing them would greatly increase the job satisfaction of missionaries.
Suggestions for reducing missionary turnover related to job responsibilities are:
The main themes that emerged regarding family expectations on the mission field (and the percent of the total survey population mentioning the issue without prompt) were:
43% of survey participants experienced some aspect of their family lives not meeting their expectations, which negatively affected their missions experience. 21.4% of them shared why. This is a partially preventable and partially unpreventable issue. Addressing it to the degree that we can would greatly increase the job satisfaction of missionaries.
Suggestions for reducing missionary turnover related to unmet family life expectations are:
We cannot completely control how well MKs adjust, whether we experience a certain degree of isolation, or whether unpreventable stress may cause unexpected mental health issues to emerge. But these practices would go a long way toward avoiding preventable issues in family life on the mission field, thus increasing the job satisfaction of missionaries and resulting in lower attrition.
The main themes that emerged regarding ministry result expectations on the mission field (and the percent of the total survey population mentioning the issue without prompt) were:
52% of survey participants experienced some aspect of the ministry results not meeting their expectations, which negatively affected their missions experience. 25% of them shared why. This is a partially preventable and partially unpreventable issue. Obviously, God is responsible ultimately for results. But that does not let us off the hook for being good stewards of the ministries He has entrusted to us and working with focus and clarity toward the calling that He has given us. Addressing expectations about ministry results to the degree that we can would greatly increase the job satisfaction of missionaries.
Suggestions for reducing missionary turnover related to unmet ministry results expectations are:
Bryant Myers says in Walking with the Poor, “we know we cannot bring the kingdom, and yet we are committed to work for its coming.” This is the difficult balance of missions. Short of Jesus’s return and the full arrival of the kingdom of God, we will never be satisfied with the results of our ministry. However, we are called to work toward it anyway. This is bound to cause frustration at times for any missionary. But we can seek to maintain a perspective that helps us to balance both imperfect results and a holy desire for kingdom fullness.
RELATIONSHIPS BACK HOME
The main themes that emerged regarding expectations of relationships back home (and the percent of the total survey population mentioning the issue without prompt) were:
54% of survey participants experienced some aspect of their relationships back home not meeting their expectations, which negatively affected their missions experience. 22.4% of them shared why. This is a partially preventable and partially unpreventable issue. Relationships will definitely change due to distance and some level of disconnection will result. However, we can play a role in the degree to which that will happen. Addressing it to the degree that we can would greatly increase the job satisfaction of missionaries.
Suggestions for reducing missionary turnover related to unmet expectations of relationships back home are:
In summary, 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 what common feelings and experiences missionaries share, and be aware of how to support them more effectively through it.