How Much Does It Cost to Be a Missionary? – part 5

Almost everything we do nowadays is seen in terms of cost vs. return. Even when we calculate the cost of sending missionaries, we ask what the cost-effectiveness of the endeavor is. However, when we read the New Testament, we see a different perspective.

But first to give some examples of how much it costs to be a missionary, in most cases you need an education. Even though Jesus’s choice for missionary candidates was ordinary unschooled men. We seem to think that everyone needs to have a degree to do something.

The current state of the educational system is in collapse. Many thousands who enter university do not end up using what they studied for. Or when they finally get out, there are not enough jobs. We are still thinking in the past century when we think of what it takes to be a missionary.

How much does a missionary education cost?

Well, it depends. There are hundreds of online options that allow you to get a diploma for anywhere between $3,000 and $8,000 USD. Those will take you from about 12 months to two years.

If you get a university degree at a physical building, they can range between $10,000 and $40,000 USD and even higher for the more prestigious schools. Many of these educations leave the candidate waiting several years to pay off the debt so that they can finally go to the mission field and then, they get entangled into the normal life struggles and just stay home.

Even before you get to the mission field there is the cost of your education. Then if you happen to go with a mission agency, they normally have courses that you need to take costing en the low thousands. Some agencies also require a start-up fund which is enough to get you settled into another culture. Also, some agencies require you to have several months if not a years’ monthly support in the bank before arriving on the field.

Other missionary training programs as you to make a short-term trip to the field to see what it is like before making a commitment. This adds to the spiraling cost of becoming a missionary. Not to mention, plane tickets, vaccines, visas, and other hidden costs. Your entire cost to becoming a missionary can range between $10,000 and $60,000 dollars. This is before you ever land on the ground.

How much monthly support does a missionary need?

This also varies between the missionary agency or organization you go with if you decide to go with an organization. This applies when you decide to be a missionary with modern missiology.

A couple that lived with us for three years was asked to raise $60,000 dollars a year for monthly support. This is one of the highest I have ever heard. The mission that sent me, asked that all its missionaries raise $4,500 USD per month no matter where in the world they lived. When the director of our mission changed heads, the new person opened our file and decided to cut us because we did not make the monthly quota.

Even when I worked in the world, I can’t remember ever making that much money, however, this is what people talk about when the topic comes up. They say “If you want to be a missionary, you need to raise a lot of support.” It is important to know that many people will not support you until you have been on the mission field for a few years, sometimes many years. They don’t want to sow into people who don’t make a long-term commitment.

  1. Short Term Missions – 2 to 4 years, $30,000 dollars a year.
  2. What is considered Long Term Missions – 4 to 6 years $40,000 to $60,000 USD per year.
  3. Carrier Missionaries – Those who stay on the field for more than 6 years, up to 15 years – starting at $60,000 dollars per year.

These stages above are worldly missiology and are very common. If we are to go to a people who needs Christ, we should not be asking the question, “How long is this going to take before I can return home and live a normal life?”

My wife and I have worked in the Bible translation circles for over 20 years and I have heard that it costs a minimum of $240,000 USD to get a Bible translation project finished. For those who have read any of my other articles, you will know that I find most of this ridiculous and indignating.  We look at the mission field as a project, and not as people in need of Christ which is a clear indication that we are perceiving God and his word from an egocentric point of view.

The Cost of Sending Missionaries according to Jesus

The Messiah tells us differently. He not only tells us to not take anything for the journey. He then becomes very specific about what not to take. There are some passages that talk about taking only a staff, and for some reason, many missionary candidates are focused on that staff.

Nevertheless, Jesus tells us specifically NOT to take Anything for the journey. The true sense of the words in the original language is, do not take any more than what you have in your hands.

  • Don’t take more than what you currently have now.
  • Don’t take extra clothing.
  • Don’t go back for anything (this is key)
  • Don’t acquire anything before you get going.

Those are the deepest meanings of the various verses on this subject of how much money or how many things to I need to be a missionary. So how seriously should we take Jesus when we read these verses?

I have been a missionary on the field for over 25 years and I can tell you, you can take him literally and you should take him seriously. I will go into more detail in the series on the Missiology of Christ. But for now, consider this. The less seriously you take Jesus at his words, the more trouble you will have getting to the mission field. Many thousands of candidates have never made it to the field because they just could not raise the money. Those lucky enough to get the kind of finances I mention above did not last long on the mission field. Most missionaries trying to do Christian missions with the modern models, come home after an average of four years.

Ask any pastor who has tried to raise up a congregation in a town with no Christians, in your own culture, speaking your language, and he will say it takes at least six years. Imagine going across the world to a culture and language you do not know. It will take more than six years. Every situation on the mission field especially among unreached people groups is different. It may take much more time than you think.

I will give you an average time I think it will take to make a reproducing group of disciples, but this is very rough.

If you are going where the Gospel has not been taken yet:

  1. Expect to spend ten years in an open country where you already know the language that the people speak.
  2. It will take you at least 15 years if you do not speak the language.
  3. If your people group speaks a local language (not a regional or national language) it will take more than 20 years. These are hard languages to learn. The easy languages got a Bible translation years ago.
  4. If you are producing audio and Bible stories (requiring some level of translation work) it will take upwards of 25 years before your group of believers is reaching out to other groups of similar culture and language. If you want to be a fully trained Bible translator, it will cost you $10,000 USD for your basic course “per person”. I don’t recommend it as the actual mechanism will make you unfit to go into an unreached area. Read the series on Christian Leadership for Mission.

True cross-cultural mission work will always produce believers that have the missionary vision to reach the neighboring tribes.

If you have read your New Testament enough, you will find this obvious. God sent his son to the world to 1. Pay for the sins of all mankind, and 2. Disciple those who would take this message to all places, languages, tribes, and clans. It is obvious that if the only way for the places, languages, tribes, and clans to hear requires someone (a “missionary” if you want to call them that), some Christian to actually spend the time to disciple them. It is a mission that you cannot put a time limit on.

If you are already thinking, “How long is this going to take?” or, “How much money is it going to cost,” you are not thinking about the people who you will be discipling, you are thinking about you.

There is not enough money or missionary candidates these days. Is this accurate?

It is very common, for large mission agencies and organizations to look at the task, and then look at what they have in the ministry fund or how many missionary candidates are in training. This is unbiblical and we have many examples in the Gospels where Christ provided.

Christ tells us that he will be with us, provide for us and open the doors. Does it mean that if I see the need in another part of the world I should just grab my shoulder bag and go? Probably. Once you start to allow your mind to get involved, it will eventually convince you not to do it.

If you knew my whole story and had you listened to many missionaries on the field about how God has been faithful to HIS mission, you would have more confidence. But this is where faith in God’s word and his promise to be with you has to come in. Faith is faith. If you are waiting to have a certain amount of money in your account before you go, you are disrespecting Christ’s missiology. You are insulting Jesus and his methods. You are basically telling God; I need this or I’m not going. I too am guilty of saying things like this. Its egocentric. The mission is about me, not the people dying and going to hell while waiting on my arrival.

And, when there is no money for food, no donations coming in, no provision in sight, a little work never hurts anyone. Just work if you need finances. It was good enough for the apostle Paul.

Why would Jesus tell us not to take anything for the journey?

Over the years I have seen that there are many reasons for this that are below the surface.

There are many situations, especially where there are no Christians where money is not the best thing to have quantities of.

Having a fair amount of money as a missionary can:

  1. Damage the mission field where the people are very poor. A sudden influx of even what we would consider a small amount of money would not be wise.
  2. It can put an unnecessary target on your back, and God will have to do extra to keep you safe.
  3. I puts distance between you and the culture you are ministering to. You used to hear in the old school missionary training centers “Don’t live beyond the means of the people you minister to.” I have not heard this in years. If you go into a poor village, and you are getting $500 to $2,000 dollars a month in missionary support:
    • In most unreached areas of the world this is more money than you need
    • This creates distance between you and the people group
    • It creates unnecessary distractions
    • Before long you have a long line of deathly urgent needs at your door
  4. Most importantly, you have no need for any help from the people group.

I remember going to a graduation of missionary candidates for a large denomination. The national director of the mission was there. This is a denomination of around 5,000 churches and has two training centers for missionaries, one in the north of the country and another in the south. Every year or two the two centers have about 15 or 20 candidates in them, just so you have an idea of who I am talking to.

The national director and I are sitting at the table, and he motioned to the couple on the other side of the table and told me, “They want to go to Saudi Arabia, and we are worried because we don’t know how they are going to raise their monthly support.” I asked him, “Brother when you were first a missionary, how was it? Did the mission send you?” He said, “No, at that time there was no mission agency in the denomination.” I asked, “Did your local congregation send you?” He replied, “No brother, my wife and I went to a city that had no Christians because we just felt it was the right thing to do.” So, I asked the big question, “Did you get financial help from anyone?” This is what the national director of the mission agency of a five-thousand church denomination responded. “No one helped us. When we got to the city, we had to depend on the unbelievers to help us with beans and rice, but that was what created the bond between us, and they were the ones that became the Christians later.”

I am a native-born North American with a seminary education and in 1998 when I went into my first unreached people group, I had $60 UDS per month in support. It was too much money in the village I lived in. It was a people group of about 15,000 population who did not speak the national language. There was no electricity, cellphone service (back in the days when a cellphone was like brick) and no running water. I didn’t need all that monthly support. I fed a family of five and myself and was able to buy a burger and fries every month as it required me to travel 8 hours to the nearest cash machine to take it out.

When my wife and I were newly married, over 20 years ago, we had plastic dishes, a foam mattress, and a two-burner electric stove. But we were happy, as much as a newly married couple is. I insisted on plastic because it doesn’t break. We still have many of those plastic dishes in our kitchen today. I could go on but will end here.

If you go far enough, where the Gospel has never been taken before, go light, lean, and as close to how the Messiah told you to go. “Don’t take anything for the journey.” It will open doors and you won’t starve to death; he guarantees that.