10 March, 2016

Promoting missionary attrition

Missionary attrition is a problem across the world. That is, missionaries leaving the field early for reasons that are potentially preventable. We find ourselves in our fourth term, our 13th year on the field, and find, with shock, that we're quite a way above average in terms of length of stay. I'm not sure what the exact figure is, but I'm pretty sure I've heard it quoted as well below 10 years for Japan.

I found this interesting post by a missionary in Thailand the other day about missionary attrition. He writes with cynicism, listing:
10 ways that mission agencies, churches, and others (including missionaries themselves) can speed up unanticipated departures from the mission field.
Here's his list:

  1. Encourage high expectations.
  2. Minimize language study
  3. Promote the Saviour complex
  4. Isolate people
  5. Leave tasks and goals intentionally vague
  6. Discourage pre-field theological and pastoral training
  7. Emphasize right methodology 
  8. Trivialize concerns and struggles
  9. Promote conformity
  10. Demand results
Interesting! I would suggest that within that are some reasons that people find it hard to remain in Japan:
  • The language is hard. After a while that gets wearying, even for those in missions who don't minimise language study. Missionaries come with high expectations and are looking for results, it is hard, therefore, to spend years slogging away at the language (and therefore not being able to "do" work). 
  • Many come with tiny mission organisations or as independent missionaries (isolation)
  • Openness to the gospel is slow (results). 
  • Because the lifestyle isn't so hard compared to other countries where missionaries serve it is easy to trivialise concerns and struggles.
This is worth thinking about, no matter where you are. If you're in a church supporting a missionary, on a missions board, or in a prayer group. Or perhaps you yourself are a missionary or planning to become one.

Unnecessary missionary attrition is tragic. Not only is it such a waste of resources, it leaves a scar on those it touches, both those who pack up and go home and those they leave behind.


MOM2_4 said...


TonyD said...

As I consider that list, I can see how in many ways we have imported values from the 'world', and gain a sense of the deceptiveness of allowing some standards to affect the way we think about what God is doing through our lives. Love Tony L.