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What if I’ve Been Serving for Five Years and Have Nothing to Show for It?

What if I’ve Been Serving for Five Years and Have Nothing to Show for It?

How do we measure success on the mission field? What does it mean to be a “good” missionary or to be “good” at your calling?

If you’ve been serving faithfully overseas for a number of years, applying your training and schooling, praying fervently, demonstrating kindness and hospitality to those with whom you have forged friendships and yet you have little “evidence” of the work you have done, does that mean you haven’t done enough?

Or, more bluntly put, do professions of faith equal success when it comes to cross-cultural ministry? If you aren’t aware of anyone trusting in Christ as a result of your work after a certain amount of time, should you just give up?

You are part of the big picture.

When you were called to this cross-cultural life, it didn’t mean you were promised you’d see someone’s entire journey to faith. We know the vivid analogy Paul writes about: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (I Corinthians 3:6, ESV). The typical pace of growth hasn’t changed since Paul wrote that. People very often come to trust in Christ at the rate of a slow-growing plant.

You may be in the midst of the hard task of tilling the soil, building a friendship, searching for ways to connect. You may be the seed planter, wondering what will sink into the soil and what will wash away. We know it intellectually, but it’s easy to forget that the progress from seed to plant is quiet. It is time-consuming. It is slow.

It is not uncommon for a worker to struggle with a sense of worthlessness if their days are filled with mundane tasks, hoping for a glimmer of evidence that all the effort is worth it.

Consider some questions.

If you are one year or five years or 10 years into your cross-cultural service and the evidence of your influence is slim to none, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Am I serving faithfully?
  2. Am I devoted to regular and honest prayer?
  3. Am I keeping myself from being polluted by sin?
  4. Am I caring for the widow and the needy and whomever else I have been given the opportunity to love?

If you answer yes to all, pray this: “God, if not me, then who?” Is He calling you to perseverance? Or if you sense your service in your community is in fact drawing to a close, pray the path for transition will be clear. Ask the Lord to provide someone else to rise up and to continue cultivating the soil, and pray that you would trust Him enough to move on if that’s His desire for you.

Then, pray this: “God, if not here, then where?” He may be leading you somewhere else to continue your ministry and if He does, He’ll open doors.

The ways of God are mysterious.

We don’t know the mind of God. His ways are often mysterious to us. But He is good, trustworthy and kind. If you feel a bit washed up or are doubting your usefulness in your current place, communicate your frustration, discouragement or boredom to the Lord. He hears you and He can refresh you and renew your energy.

In the meantime, you’re still on the field. As you’re working hard and honoring Christ, be faithful to your call. The One who calls you is faithful!

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-24, NIV)

Laura lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where she freelances in various capacities, leads worship at her church and hangs with her adorably photogenic dog named Kimchi. She’s well acquainted with the chaos of trying to determine what to do in life.

Laura went to Bible college, where she explored cross-cultural ministry through classes, conferences and lots of practical application. After college she went to grad school, taught, went to South Korea for a year, worked for Christar, then spent a good chunk of the last decade working with international students in high school and college in the U.S.

She would love to journey with you as you consider missions—because she’s been there. Because reaching the nations is going to look different than it did in centuries past. And she wants you to be a part of it.

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