Making a decision to leave the mission field is monumental and should only be done after much prayer and counsel. I pray that the Lord will use these questions to either solidify a direction that you are already leaning toward, or to completely change your mind according to His will.
Keep in mind these questions don’t really apply to missionaries who are being forcibly expelled by the government or for those who have health problems that cannot be addressed on the field (as well as those who have disqualified themselves from ministry).
1. Are you tired?
Before you brush this off, please note that sometimes you are the last to realize how tired you really are. What you might need to do before you make a decision this big, is to just have a furlough, get some rest, and then reevaluate where you are. Tired people don’t make good decisions. You don’t want to make a decision in the heat of the moment, that you will regret for the rest of your life.
2. Have you just had a great spiritual breakthrough in your ministry or maybe a large set back?
After calling fire down from Heaven, Elijah ran from Jezebel afraid for his life. After spiritual highs or spiritual lows, perspective can be a hard thing to grasp. As with the first question, the best advice is to wait, and not make a quick decision (1Kings chapter 19).
3. Are you dissatisfied with the results God is giving you on the field?
I am sure everyone would say yes to this question to some extent. No one reaches everybody, and the one who wouldn’t listen is usually the one we can’t forget.
Dissatisfaction with what God is using you to do can manifest itself in two ways. The first mentality says that, “I and my God-given gifts are being wasted out here. If I was anywhere else I would see a lot more fruit.” I agree with the second part of this mentality. If you are a missionary to Iran, and you left Iran, not to pastor, but just to run a small Sunday school class, you would probably see more people saved. However, if you take this mentality to its logical conclusion, there would be no missionaries in hard to reach areas.
God wants us to go to everyone. The assumption with the parable of the seed and the different types of ground in Matthew chapter 13 is that the seed gets sown everywhere, regardless of the soil type. God told us to preach the gospel to every nation, and He did not ask us to find out if they wanted to listen first.
The second mentality says, “I am so ineffective, maybe it would be better if I just stopped.” To this I ask, “Would you be more effective if you quit?” Of course not. There are things you can do to become more effective, but leaving the field is not one of them.
4. What progress have you made so far on your field?
Think about all the hours you spent trying to figure out the syntax of the language. Remember the first victory you had at the grocery store? Remember the first time you were able to witness to someone without anyone translating for you? Remember when you made your first friend? These are victories that God has given you to shape you and make you a useful tool for His glory. Many people who have the right stand on the Bible, who want to see people saved on your field, cannot do what you can do. I am not saying this to motivate you with pride, but to help you understand how God is using you.
The Bible says, “But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:48). Does God want you to take all of the skills that He has given you during your time on the field, and then have you not use them, by sending you back to America, or go to a field where you have to start from scratch again?
5. What is the missionary presence like in your field?
If God called you to go there at the beginning, it was because there was a need. Is the need gone? Are there people to take your place if you go? What will happen to the area that God used you to begin reaching?
In my town of Samara, there are 1.3 million people. That number does not include all of the unregistered people, and a nearby city called Tolyatti (there are about 900,000 people there). An area of this size has many important things happening. We have multimillion dollar buildings going up in multiple locations. We have a suspension bridge going up. Soon they will start construction on a stadium that will host some of the soccer games when the World Cup comes to Russia in 2018. All of that, however, pales in importance when compared to the value of one soul. What I am doing, although it might cost a lot less money, and not be as noticed, is infinitely more important than most of what happens in my city.
Don’t believe that what you are doing does not matter. From God’s point of view, nothing else comes near it in importance!
6. What will happen to the people you have already reached?
God has given you fruit, it might not be as much as you wanted, but that does not mean it is unimportant to God. The people that God has given you on the mission field are different than many Christians in America. There is no difference in potential, but because of the isolated nature of many mission works, their idea of what a Christian is and how he acts, comes mostly from one person. That person is you. If you leave, then their image of what a Christian is might change. We all try to warn people that they should not follow us, as much as they should follow Christ. However, we know from experience that people often rise to the level of the leadership they are given.
If you can look at these questions, and still believe that it is God’s will for you to move on, by all means do so. I know the questions are kind of “slanted” toward keeping you where you are, but I believe it is important to make sure that moving is really what God wants, and not just what you want.