Some years ago, the World Evangelical Fellowship did some research into missionary attrition. (That’s a fancy word for missionaries who call it quits and leave the field.) Called ReMAP – Reducing Missionary Attrition Project – they did some extensive study on why missionaries leave the field and what are the numbers.
(Things to note: *The study and paper were done 20 yrs ago – add the IMB pulling 1,200 last year, and the numbers seem higher today)
“Globally speaking, 1 career missionary in 20 (5.1%) leaves the mission field to return home every year. Of those who leave, 71% leave for preventable reasons. This could represent a total figure of up to 7,650 missionary dropouts every year.” (Taylor 1997,13)
They talk about 2 types of departures: “unpreventable attrition” caused by retirement, contract completion, medical leave, or being called to another field; and “preventable attrition” which he states “could have been avoided by better initial screening or selection, more appropriate training and/or more effective shepherding during missionary service.”
They talk about there being “a gap between the ‘real’ reason and the ‘safe’ reason” given for why the missionary had left the field. The ‘safe’ reason is the one that is acceptable/tolerable/palatable to supporters. (The pressures that come with ‘supporter money’ is a conversation for another day) A surprising 24%-29% of mission leaders who left were reluctant to write down the truth about why they left the field – citing reasons that MAY have been true, but certainly spun in wording. (i.e. “Lack of funds or the Lord’s leading” would ‘seem more acceptable’ than “family problems or cultural difficulties”.)
Here’s why this topic is important: “two of the top three reasons people leave mission service are spiritual in nature.”
So what are the reasons people leave ministry?
- Lack of home support (not only financial)
- Financial difficulties/burdens
- Lack of true calling and/or spiritual gifts required for the job at hand
- Inadequate training
- Inadequate commitment or improper understanding of their commitment
- Disagreement with agency
- Personal problems with peers
- Health problems
- Family issues (including marriage breakdown)
- Culture shock and/or poor cultural adaptation
- Unfulfilled expectations
- Language difficulties
- Moral issues
Other agencies have conducted their own studies; Evangelical Alliance Mission (Pocock 122), Conservative Baptist Foreign MIssion Society (Camburn 127), World Gospel Mission (Bushong 129), and others. So what are the main concerns of all these studies?
“Emotional havoc, broken families, derailed careers, and illness are the price of neglecting personal well-being on the global circuit”. Family issues, emotional issues, and illness are the kickers.
Missionaries, pastors, and mission workers are under high amounts of stress for extended periods of time. There is little vacation and/or down time. Money is tight. Counseling is often seen as shameful – or somehow not ‘spiritual’. All this exacts a very high toll – emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
Villa Sollievo is the fulfillment of a vision to change the attrition rates of pastors, missionaries, and cross-cultural workers across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
I leave this long post with a quote from William Taylor, “Too Valuable to Lose”:
“This is a glorious day to be alive, serving the supernatural, Triune God in global missions. And while we must not avoid the price to be paid, we can do a much better stewardship job with our missionary force.”
Referenced in this post: “Too Valuable to Lose”, William Taylor; “Missionary Attrition: Its Relationship to the Spiritual Dynamics of the Late Twentieth Centry”, Desiree Whittle; “The Problem of Missionary Drop-outs”, J. Paul Dowdy