Misperceptions on Missionaries, Part 1


A missionary friend encouraged me to write a post about misperceptions about missionaries, so I did some research among missionaries. Here are some commonly believed misconceptions about the lives of missionaries that I found.

  1. “We are saints.”

They’re not, they told me. They’re regular people answering God’s call to do work across cultures. They struggle with sin. Their families have arguments. Their kids drive them crazy some days. Missionaries don’t want to be heroes (though they often appreciate the affirmation they get).

2. “We all live in a hut in Africa.”

Missionaries live all over the world, many in megacities where millions of people live.

3. “When we come to America, we’re coming home.”

Home for missionaries is where they live. The place they reside, and the people they’re seeking to reach, become part of them. Coming to the United States can, in fact, be stressful. I’ll always remember one missionary who called me from Walmart, completely stressed because the vast numbers of cereal options overwhelmed him

4. “We understand U.S. culture.”

This misperception relates to #3 above. Missionaries come back to churches that are often more elaborate, supermarkets that are much more “super,” and missionary homes that are much bigger than what they have where they live. Often, they don’t know the newest praise choruses or recognize the latest sermon illustrations. Reverse culture shock is real for them.

5. “Your short-term mission trip is a great blessing to us.”

It can be, but not always. If your team doesn’t work with the missionary from the beginning – or if you ignore the missionary on the ground to form your own plans – you can make the missionary’s task much harder. Ask how you can help the missionaries rather than telling them what you plan to do.

6. “Our life is just a longer short-term mission trip.”

One missionary put it this way: “On a short-term mission trip, you basically do ministry from sun up to sun down. You don’t negotiate with a landlord, struggle with buying groceries and cooking food, homeschool your kids, or stand in long lines to pay a $2.00 bill. Living overseas requires a lot of effort just to live.

7. “We’re all natural language learners.”

That’s not the case. Language learning is difficult, and even those who know the language well might still struggle. Some long-term missionaries never fully master their language – but they press on because they want to share the gospel with their people group. Language learners need our prayers.

8. “Evangelism is easy for us.”

Not only is it hard to move a conversation to the gospel, but missionaries must also do that in a second language. Even those believers who go to the ends of the earth still wrestle with engaging somebody with the gospel.

9. “All of us took a vow of poverty.”

Not so. They’re serving God, but we need to threat them as worthy of their hire. In fact, some missionaries live in places where the cost of living is quite high.

10. “We’re all living in a revival.”

Many are still waiting for someone among their people group to follow Jesus. Some are themselves struggling to find daily joy. Missionary living is not always on the mountaintop.


Chuck Lawless Contributor
Dean of Graduate Studies , SEBTS
Chuck Lawless is Dean and Vice-President of Graduate Studies and Ministry Centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, where he also serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions. In addition, he is Global Theological Education Consultant for the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
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One Comment

  1. Pingback: Misperceptions on Missionaries, Part 2 – Center for Great Commission Studies

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