Becoming a Missionary

One moment they’re leading a prayer breakfast, while the next is spent building schools and shelter for locals in the middle of devastating circumstances. Equipped with a theology degree, some graduates hear a calling to cultivate, strengthen and spread the word of his or her religion beyond their own church walls. Missionaries embark on faith-based adventures to conduct religious and/or charitable work, oftentimes traveling to developing countries that pose unique challenges in regards to their mission work.

1. Job Activities & Responsibilities

Mission work does not fit into the average 9-to-5 work schedule, and can become a 24-hour commitment (depending on the location of employment). While some missionaries are employed at their local church or a community center,

,a great deal of them travel from place to place where living conditions can vary. Mission trips may last a week or few, while some missionaries commit

 years of their lives at the same destination. When applicable, being physically and mentally prepared to assume the following day-to-day activities and responsibilities is expected of missionaries:

  • Assess, plan, and carry out appropriate ministry activities for a community
  • Demonstrate knowledge and respect for the people and communities they travel to
  • Plan and lead youth ministry and adult Bible study groups
  • Recruit, train and guide others on how to minister and root a community in faith
  • Work with area churches and ministries

2. Education

Although becoming a missionary does not require fulfilling any across-the-board educational requiremen

ts beyond having knowledge of scripture, many organizations and churches pre

offer to hire and work with candidates that possess adequate education and experience for various positions. Colleges, universities and theological seminaries offer programs for aspiring missionaries to earn a B.A., M.A. or Ph.D. A missionary with a degree in theology, plus a background or studies in education, health care, economics, literary, social justice, or a foreign language typically demonstrate a higher level of preparedness for mission trips – especially the ones that involve international travel.

3. Step by Step: How to Become a Missionary

1. Pursue appropriate education and training. Enrolling in an academic program that offers training in religion, cultural sensitivity, and foreign language best prepares graduates to provide adequate services and education to a community as a missionary. Some organizations may require at least one year of college-level Biblical studies. Others expect their missionaries to hold at least a bachelor’s degree in theology or in a relevant subject. Some schools offer a Bachelor of Arts in Missions degree program, which often concludes with a missionary trip that allows students to apply their knowledge and skills in the field.

2. Increase involvement in the church, and gain experience. Volunteering at local churches and within the community are some of the best ways for an aspiring missionary to prepare for the field. Some choose to become an intern, and train under a local church leader or more experienced missionary.   

3. Satisfy any travel requirements. Some missionaries (especially those seeking employment abroad) may have to satisfy additional requirements before accepting a position, such as acquiring a passport or having up-to-date immunization records. Even local missionaries are expected to travel within their community, and should possess a driver’s license and reliable vehicle.

4. Research missionary organizations, and set up interviews. Missionaries often work through their church, but there are also many organizations that provide access to mission assignments. Note the different methodologies, belief systems, and mission goals available. There are also various age limitations, as well as physical and psychological requirements that candidates must meet. Create an application portfolio and begin interviewing with potential agencies.

5. Obtain an advanced degree, training and/or credentials. Whether it’s passing a missionary accreditation program or participating in requested seminars at a Bible school, some churches and organizations instruct their missionaries to complete additional training and education. Pursue a Master of Arts to expand knowledge on religious philosophy, cross-cultural communication, and the ability to speak a foreign language. A doctorate degree opens the door to specialize in a specific field, conduct vital research, as well as allows missionaries to act as educators and become a member of an administrative team.

4. Career Outlook, Salary & Growth

The anticipated type of work and the party responsible for funding missions are two key factors that play a role in the yearly salary or pay for a missionary. In some cases, individual donations and church budgets cover living and ministry costs, and missionaries are paid a small stipend. Larger religious organizations and agencies tend to pay yearly salaries that vary according to their needs and location of mission work.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, missionaries fall under the category of ‘religious workers, all other,’ which earned a median annual wage of $29,310 in May 2017. This figure is based on an individual holding at least a bachelor’s degree. Projected employment for these types of workers is anticipated to grow 8 percent, with 4,100 new jobs becoming available from 2016-2026.

Missionaries can be paid annually, monthly, or per trip. Traveling families and couples are also typically paid higher for their service. For example, the average salary for new Cru missionaries in 2016 was: $27,611 (for individuals), $55,222 (for a couple with no children), and $70,999 for a family with two kids.

A college degree, advanced training, and a background in a specialty (such as healthcare, education, or social work) can all increase salary potential.

In 2018, examples of missionary job openings include:

  • A part-time Mission Home Attendant working with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is paid an estimated $17,000-$24,000.
  • An Overseas Team Leader traveling to the Middle East through East-West Ministries International makes an estimated $48,000-$69,000. They pay an estimated $54,000-$72,000 to Educational Outreach Teachers traveling to East Asia. A Field Leader in Spain is paid an estimated $46,000 to $60,000.

In addition to base pay, some missionary assignments are paired with monetary allowances, such as additional pay for rent, child care, education, and health care. Other benefits include provided supplies during missions, such as cell phones, computer, and transportation.