Why missionaries quit 2 – Difficulties in interpersonal relationships

Nabwera familyThe following is an excerpt from Patrick Nabwera’s master’s thesis on missionary attrition among Kenyan missionaries:

Johnston, citing Johnson and Penner (1981) and Gish (1983), observes that a missionary’s greatest struggle is in getting along with other missionaries. “This has some bearing on personality differences but also relates to differences stemming from individuals’ previous cultural/family norms for relating and resolving conflicts” (1992, 39). Some of the missionaries in the study left because they found it difficult to relate with other missionaries. One informant said, “I was sick and began to vomit. My colleagues began to spread rumors that I was pregnant yet single. I felt bad. It really affected me, and I do not want to remember that experience.”

Another missionary said that issues causing conflict and division include how to do ministry, how to handle the local people, and even doing household responsibilities. Ellis notes that such interpersonal conflicts might be caused by differences in personalities, preferences, opinions, convictions and beliefs (Ellis 2005, 441). Many missionaries do not find help solving these differences and conflicts when they take place. Instead, unresolved issues are swept under the carpet and develop into bitterness, carrying the potential to cause even more friction.

Out of bitterness, one missionary confessed, “it is the team you work with that harasses you.” The fact that this seemed a new realization to this missionary implies that many missionaries are not prepared to face the negative side of teamwork. Missionaries need to understand conflict management and resolution, especially with people from different cultures in their ministry context. As Mackin says, they will have to grapple with the biblical principles and have follow-up discussions where they are helped to remain sensitive and understand each other (1992, 161).

Ellis, Jordan. 2005. Let us get real about missionary team chemistry. Evangelical missions quarterly 41, no.4 (October):440-445.

  • Johnston, LeRoy. 1992. Core issues in missionary life. In Missionary care, ed. Kelly O’Donnell, 37-45. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library.
  • Mackin, Sandra. 1992. Multinational teams. In Missionary care, ed. Kelly O’Donnell, 155-162. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library.

Comment [Ben]: This issue is huge, almost universal; I’ve seen it almost everywhere I’ve been including the American churches I’ve worked in. An American very close to me once blurted out in exasperation, “I have no problem relating to the Africans; it’s the missionaries from my own country that I can’t stand.”

Positively, over the last couple of decades, I’ve noticed more and more missions focusing on teams and team dynamics. I have seen this work really well on my brother-in-law’s team in Western Uganda – http://paradoxuganda.blogspot.com. How the team relates is a testimony in and of itself to outsiders looking in.

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3 thoughts on “Why missionaries quit 2 – Difficulties in interpersonal relationships

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

  2. […] difficulties in interpersonal relationships, […]

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