Why Missionaries Quit – Introduction

This begins a series of excerpts from Patrick Nabwera’s master’s thesis on missionary attrition.

Nabwera family“Missionary” in his research means one who is sent to carry the Gospel across cultural boundaries to those who owe no allegiance to Jesus Christ and encouraging them to accept Him as Lord and saviour and to become responsible members of his church, working, as the Holy spirit leads, at both evangelism and justice, at making God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven (Adapted from McGavran’s definition of missions-McGavran 1983, 26).

All missionaries in this study are Kenyan. The name of this Kenyan mission and specific contexts have been omitted to help protect their ministry. The mission’s aim is to plant vibrant indigenous churches among the un-reached peoples in Sub-Saharan Africa and in the horn of Africa. The planted churches are to be both relevant and sensitive to the culture of the people.

In conducting his research, Nabwera interviewed [ethnographic interviews] seventeen current missionaries and six others who had left the mission. While this sampling is limited, it is a valuable beginning. I think all mission related people and organizations will find that these findings resonate with their experiences and will be helpful for helping them address missionary attrition.

The interviews showed that the main reasons missionaries quit are as follows:

  1. lack of financial support,
  2. difficulties in interpersonal relationships,
  3. marriage for singles,
  4. culture shock,
  5. resistance and hostility of radical Muslims,
  6. lack of quick conversion of the Muslims,
  7. a sense of God’s will for leaving,
  8. loss of vision, and
  9. lack of pastoral care.

Having experienced many of these problems first hand, Nabwera wanted to examine more thoroughly the causes of missionary attrition in order to propose ways of alleviating it.

Note: In 1995, Daystar University established that sixteen of the twenty-two unreached people groups in Kenya are Muslims (KUPNet 1995, iv), who live along the coast and in the northeastern parts of Kenya (1995, v). (KUPNet. 1995. A call to share: The unevangelized peoples of Kenya. Nairobi, Kenya: Daystar University.)

In the following days, we will excerpt a summary from the first four of these main reasons missionaries quit.

© Patrick Nabwera 2008

9 thoughts on “Why Missionaries Quit – Introduction

  1. […] Ben Bryerly who works in a theological college in Kenya has just started what looks as if they will be a very good series of blog posts on why missionaries quit. It won’t be comfortable reading, but it should be worth following. In a survey carried out in Kenya the top four reasons for missionary attrition were: […]

  2. ME says:

    Great information.

  3. […] missionaries quit: Intro 1) finances 2) interpersonal issues 3) marriage 4) culture shock […]

  4. John Silvers says:

    I believe M’s quit for all the reasons listed above but I think some of those listed could be resolved with more mentoring and prep in these areas before being allowed to go to the field, especially the first four. I would also add lack of interest and emotional support from sending church as another reason that M’s leave the field.

  5. Ben says:

    I’m sure you are right. One of the main reasons Patrick wanted to do this study is so he could find ways to better mentor new missionaries. Fund raising does take some special skills, and in this context, it seems to be infinitely harder.

    I’ve often wondered if missionaries could benefit from gifted fund raisers who could raise funds for them – freeing them to focus on other aspects of their job.

    Your last sentence is right on.

  6. I am looking forward to this series. My wife and I just started our 3 yr Mission in Mexico. So this will be interesting material and very relevant to prepare us for pitfalls.
    Teaching classes onlinetfor schools in our home countires, for those with a Masters Degree, is one tip I can give to circumvent the first reason for leaving (no finances). As Paul said, he labored with his own hands when he didnt have support from home churches, so he could continue to minister. I love that model for missionaries. Except in areas where poeple starve to death daily, I think we can learn to get by one whatever the people we minister to get by on. But that is my take on it. Blessings to all servants.

    • Mutita Kashimoto says:

      Yes, I am also an advocate of tent making though we still have to ask many questions on this issue. But if I can have a question about tent making, then I would be interested on us reflecting on the following: Is it Biblical to be a tent maker? Is it applicable in all places and for all Missionaries? Is it sustainable? Is it Missiologically correct? What about theologically, is it correct? what about time spent on tent making? How can we prevent those who are in tent making not to loose focus on there calling? these and many other questions that are relevant in order for us to find an answer to the problem of ( no Finances) As we see in Acts 13, God spoke and called those who were to go into His Mission, but he told those who were praying to set apart Paul and Barnabas for God’s Mission. After they had prayed for them, they sent them off. To me the term they sent them off implies, they enabled them to go, they allowed them to go etc. God called, those He called answered the call, and others who heard God calling these 2, confirmed the calling by laying on hands on the Missionaries and they enabled them to go. Tent making must not replace the responsibility of the sending Church or body. Matt 6:21, for where your treasure is, your heart is also. If we can store our treasures in Missions, then we in some way confirm that our hearts are in Missions.

      Yes I agree that we need to think about tent making, but that should not replace the responsibility of the sending body where funding is concerned.

  7. Mutita Kashimoto says:

    I agree with Patrick’s findings on why Missionaries quit. I just want to add one other reason. Both the Missionaries and the sending Churches make decisions based on either sentiments of the day or some one decides for them. What I mean here is that, before one decides to answer the call of sending or going, it is important that things are thought through. The motives for going or sending must be clarified. Do I want to go because others have gone? Are we sending some one because we have been challenged? A failure to analyze, compare, investigate the implications weather you are going or you are sending is very important. No wonder Jesus said, no one begins to build without counting the cost. Some African Missionaries have gone because the Missions mobilizer challenged them and they felt guilty, and the resolution is going or sending. Thanks Patrick

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