The International Missionary Training Network

Spiritual Health

The greatest need for every Christian to ensure success in making disciples of all nations is the enduement of power from God as our Lord


Jesus tells us in Luke 24:49, "... stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high". We must consecrate ourselves to obey the command of Jesus to make disciples of all nations and continue in prayer until the Holy Spirit endues us with power. This involves confessing and turning from every sin, believing that the Lord will answer us. We recommend the attentive reading and application of Charles Finney's book Power from on High.

Spiritual Formation and Personal Development of Missionaries: Nurturing the spiritual life and vitality of cross-cultural missionaries, facilitating their personal development as maturing disciples who will be ready and able to minister out of a reservoir or place of intimacy and contentment.

The heart of missionary effectiveness flows out of their relationship with God. Yet it has been difficult to assign primary responsibility to any one stakeholder in the missionary selection, training and sending process.

One’s initial calling into cross-cultural mission is only the first step in a life-long journey of learning and personal development.  Too often in the past, the spiritual maturity and personal health of a person signing up for service was assumed to be in place, and too infrequently adequately assessed, resourced or evaluated. A strange dance of assuming took place between the initial stakeholders - the sending church who assumed candidates would get all the spiritual help they needed at school or in their graduate school preparation; the training colleges who assumed that incoming students from churches were fully formed and devoted little time to spiritual formation; and the sending agencies who also assumed incoming candidates must be mature enough to enlist.

The tragedy was that none of those stakeholders invested intentional time and resources in the spiritual formation of their field workers. They invested little time or energy in assessing their strengths and spiritual weaknesses, spiritual gifts, or possible areas of deep wounding.  The result was that a person’s spiritual immaturity or limitations were not noticed or fully realized until they had arrived on the field!

The problems caused by sending ill-equipped and insufficiently-formed missionaries was finally recognized in the late 80s, and intentional efforts were launched by the WEA-Missions Commission as early as the 90s to remedy this oversight.   A “quadralogue” was initiated among the four key stakeholders sending churchestraining institutionssending agencies, AND receiving churches (when present).  Several workshops and conferences gleaned the wisdom of these participants in missionary preparation, and intentional efforts were taken to integrate spiritual formation into the very fabric of off missionary preparation and training. 

Candidates will need assistance in assessing their own level of development before they can identify the type of alongside spiritual nurture and direction they need for life-long growth and maturity. The following areas have repeatedly emerged as the most critical for missionary spiritual vitality.

  • A heart after God that seeks intimacy with Abba, and is equipped to feed themselves spiritually even under difficult circumstances;
  • A teachable spirit that responds in obedience to truth revealed by the Holy Spirit in Scripture and prayer;
  • A lifestyle that is consistently being formed by a robust practice of the spiritual disciples and practices that strengthen one’s life in Christ and equip one to serve others out of a spirit of humility and Servanthood;
  • A practice of prayer communication with God, that includes listening prayer where one hears from God, as well as healing prayer for others, and intercession for others;
  • A depth of dependence and faith that is solidly foundationed on a clear sense of one’s significance in Christ, not in one’s role or ministry performance;
  • A discovery of one’s ministry identity that includes a understanding of and acceptance of one’s Spiritual Gifts and evidences a growing maturity in the exercise of those gifts for powerful service.  A growing self-awareness of how God has gifted one spiritually and through one’s natural abilities and temperament-personality is vital for a “sober estimate” of how one fits on a ministry team (Rom 12:3);
  • A growing awareness not only of one’s strengths (Spiritual Gifts), but an honest acceptance and recognition of where one is weak in the Body (one’s area of non-gifting), and who one needs (depending on their area of strength to cover their weakness);
  • An awareness of the soul care (pastoring) and spiritual direction needed, and a willingness to seek spiritual counsel when needed.

Selected Resources in Spiritual Formation, including Spiritual Warfare:

Clinton Arnold. Three Crucial Questions about Spiritual Warfare. Baker Books, 1997. Perhaps the most balanced and helpful work on the topic, rooted in Scripture and reality, avoiding the extremes.

David G. Benner. Sacred Companions. The Gift of Spiritual Friendship and Direction. IVPress, 2002. An inviting introduction to the ancient practice of the church of being in accountable spiritual relationships that both encourage and direct.

_____. Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality. IVPress, 2003. A compelling reminder that it is our surrender to love that allows us to offer it to others in power.

Bruce Demarest. Satisfy Your Soul: Restoring the Heart of Christian Spirituality. NAVPress, 1999. A most helpful overview of the disciplines and Spiritual Formation and Direction.

_____. SoulGuide: Following Jesus as Spiritual Director. NAVPress, 2003.

_____. Seasons of the Soul: Stages of Spiritual Development. IVPress, 2009.

Richard J. Foster.  Celebration of Discipline. Harper/San Francisco, 1978. This classic by well-known Quaker spiritual director Foster outlines ten classic spiritual disciplines for personal and community growth into Christlikeness. 

_____. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. Harper/San Francisco, 1992.

_____. Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith.. Harper/San Francisco, 1998.

A. Scott Moreau.. Essentials of Spiritual Warfare: Equipped to Win the Battle.  Shaw Publishers, 1997. Other missiologists have cited this short book as the best introduction to spiritual warfare on the market.  A balanced understanding that is biblically-based, personally relevant, and culturally sensitive.

_____. Spiritual Warfare: Disarming the Enemy through the Power of God. Shaw Books, 2004. A valuable series of self-study guides on twelve topics based on inductive Bible study. This is a gem for everybody in mission.

M. Robert Mulholland. Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation. IVPress, 2003. A clearly written introduction to the transformative nature of intentionally choosing to start the journey of spiritual growth and formation.

Henri J. M. Nouwen. The Way of the Heart. Image Books/Doubleday, 1979. This beloved devotional author and spiritual director suggests solitude, silence and prayer as the core dynamics of a deeper walk with Jesus.

_____. In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. Crossroad, 1990. One of the most powerful books (deceptively brief) on true spirituality, especially relevant for all who are or who aspire to some kind of Christian leadership. I have given away more copies of this book than any other in my life. It’s deceptively brief!

Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. IVPress, 1980. Tested spiritual counsel by one of the wisest and tested shepherds of the Global North, rightly dissects our penchant for instant spirituality and leadership, and calls us to perseverance and endurance in the life-long journey of faithful discipleship. Anything by Peterson will be healthy for you!

Douglas D. Webster.  Finding Spiritual Direction. IVPress, 1991.

Dallas Willard.  Hearing from God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God. IVPress, 1984, 1999.

_____. The Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. NAVPress, 2002.Arguably the most accessible writing of Willard, who dissects the Christian life into its component parts, and then puts them all back together into a riveting guide to personal transformation. 

_____. The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on Discipleship. Harper/San Francisco, 2006.

Missionaries should manifest the following spiritual characteristics - who we are is more important than what we do:

  • A strong personal knowledge of forgiveness and acceptance by God in our Lord Jesus.
  • Sincere spirituality: seeking to obey and please God above all else. Discipled to obey the Lord's commands. Freedom from besetting sins — which are a stronghold for Satan.
  • Growth in the fruit of the Holy Spirit:
    • Love: manifested in attitudes and practical ways; no racial prejudice or pride.
    • Joy, peace and patience in the face of difficulties. Contentment with what God provides. Willing to maintain an austere life style when necessary.
    • Kindness: seeking to build others up; generous.
    • Goodness: complete moral integrity.
    • Faithfulness in obligations towards God and others.
    • Humility: being a servant for Christ's sake; recognizing one's own faults; not wanting to dominate others; the ability to laugh at oneself (e.g. necessary in language learning). An overbearing leadership style is usually an indication of hidden insecurities.
    • Self‑control: discipline in work; moral purity.
  • Perseverance in:
    • prayer and fasting; seeking God's guidance and anointing; resisting the devil; discerning what spiritual powers are operating.
    • evangelism and disciple making in the face of difficulties. Multiplying churches in areas where the devil has reigned for centuries requires sacrifice, perhaps even giving our lives (Luke 9:23, 57‑62; 2 Tim 4:1‑13).
    • systematic Bible study.
  • God's call to missionary work: shared by one's spouse (if married), and ratified by the church after experience during training.
  • Commitment to stay on the field until churches are multiplying. Not demanding a fixed salary, but relying on God for support.
  • Ability to work in harmony with a servant spirit in a team: flexible, and submitting to others. The attitude should be "what can I add to the team effort to plant churches?", rather than just working on one's own projects. Not a manipulator of others for one's own purposes. Forgiving and seeking forgiveness. Delegating responsibility and accepting help from others.
  • Commitment to beginning the type of church which reproduces. The team should plan so that the first new churches soon become mothers of other churches.
  • Bible knowledge. Know key verses by heart for essential doctrines.
  • Good relationship with the church, and agreement on the objectives and methods of work of the church and the team. If team members come from the same church, or churches with the same doctrine and practice this may help avoid unnecessary disagreements on the field.
  • Commitment to send reports to the church so that people can pray: letters, bulletins, photographs, cassettes etc.. (The apostle Paul reported on his work to the churches of Antioch and Jerusalem).
  • Good family relationships: spending some time with them every day, when not travelling.

Personal Traits:

  • Emotional stability, having resolved any major emotional conflicts, and willing to receive counsel for one's emotional health.
  • If married, the relationship exhibits the fruits of the Spirit, and partners are completely fulfilled in each other, and seek to build each other up.
  • If single, has found ways to be fulfilled in singleness, dedicated to God; accepts God's sovereign plan for his or her life; sexual relationships are above reproach.
  • Initiative: the ability to begin new works, but also to see a job through.
  • Ability to handle stress. Resistance in the face of hardship.
  • Flexibility (quickly adapting to new cultures, without racial or social discrimination). A liking for learning and practising new things.
  • Ability to develop good relationships with others. A fruitful ministry depends on this. Holding oneself accountable to God, one's family, church, team members etc.
  • Ability to learn another language.
  • Willingness to continue to receive training and evaluation on the field.
  • Freedom from large debts; ability to make a budget, stick to it, and keep accurate financial accounts. A good steward of resources.
  • A true understanding of oneself in Christ (self esteem): neither proud nor belittling oneself. Easily recovering after failure. Knowledge of one's gifts.
  • Good physical health for the field, exercise programme, practice of hygiene and the prevention of illnesses; knowledge of basic first aid.
  • The practice of a weekly rest and annual break to avoid overload.
  • Recommendation by those who know one.
  • Willing to take a secular job, run a business, be a student, or (if elderly) retire in the target country.
  • Ability to maximize the use of time and achieve personal goals.
  • Sensitivity; able to understand both verbal and non‑verbal cues which communicate how other people are feeling and thinking.

Emotional Health

Just surviving is not enough: God our Father has created us as people with a purpose, who live and minister best in a context of close, nurturing relationships. Christians are meant to find emotional, physical and spiritual health in this conext of "Body Life". However, whether at home or abroad, even well-meaning and zealous cross-cultural workers may lack a sense of general well-being and health - in their emotions, their physical body and in their spirit. The devil tries to avoid us experiencing deep, on-going transformation in our following of Christ.

Antidotes to this malaise are emotional health and contemplative spirituality. Together these two can unleash a transformation in the lives of missionaries, positioning us so that God can mold us into the men and women he has called us to be. Cross-cultural workers need a contagious faith that is fragrant and sustainable in the difficult places of our world.

Emotional health is concerned with such things as:

  • developing the capacity to recognize and express our thoughts and feelings clearly
  • being aware of how our past impacts our present
  • breaking free from self-destructive patterns
  • identifying and having active compassion for others
  • initiating and maintaining close and meaningful relationships
  • respecting and loving others without having to change them
  • learning the capacity to resolve conflict maturely and negotiate solutions that consider the perspectives of others
  • distinguishing and appropriately expressing our sexuality and sensuality
  • grieving well (1 John 3:10-11, 14-5, 4:7-21)

Contemplative spirituality, on the other hand, focuses on classic spiritual practices and concerns such as:

  • awakening and surrendering to God’s love in every situation
  • positioning ourselves to hear God and remember his presence in all we do
  • communing with God, allowing him to fully indwell the depth of our being
  • finding the true essence of who we are in God
  • practicing silence, solitude, and a life of unceasing prayer
  • understanding our earthly life as a journey of transformation towards ever-increasing union with God
  • developing a balanced, harmonious rhythm of life that enables us to be aware of the sacred in all of life
  • loving others out of a life of love for God
  • living in committed community that passionately loves Jesus above all else

"The combination of emotional health and contemplative spirituality address what I believe to be the missing piece in contemporary Christianity and missions. Together they unleash the Holy Spirit inside us in order that we might know experientially the power of an authentic life in Christ—wherever we are living or ministering.” Peter Scazzero*

Joining the Two Together

At the same time contemplation is not simply about  our relationship with God. It is ultimately the way we see and treat people and the way we look at ourselves. Our relationship with God and our relationship with others are two sides of the same coin. If our contemplation or “loving union with God” does not result in a loving union with people, then it is, as 1 John 4:7-21 says, not true. Moreover, it is about seeing God in all of life.

Emotional health, on the other hand, concerns itself primarily with loving others well. It connects us to our interiors, making possible the seeing and treating of each individual as worthy of respect, created in the image of God and not just as objects to use. For this reason, self-awareness, what is going on inside of us, is indispensable to emotional health and loving well. In fact, the extent to which we love and respect ourselves is the extent to which we will be able to love and respect others. Emotional health is not only about ourselves and our relationships. It impacts our image of God, our hearing of God’s voice, and our discernment of His will.

The point is simple: there are powerful spiritual breakthroughs that can take place deep below the surface of our iceberg when the riches of both contemplative spirituality and emotional health are joined together for spiritual formation and development. Together they form a furnace where God’s love burns away what is false and unreal and where the force of his fierce and purifying love sets us free to live in the truth of Jesus.

The practices of contemplative spirituality provide a “container,” a boundary, so that Jesus continues as the beginning, the middle, and the end of our lives. Thus the practices of emotional health never lead us to a self-absorbed narcissism. They lead us to Christ.

Balanced missionary preparation and mentoring incorporates an understanding of both of these streams which nurture our spiritual formation and growth into intimacy with God our Father. Intentional approaches to facilitating genuine encounters with God and the spiritual disciplines or practices which nurture a growing intimacy with God are critical to missionary preparation. 

Transformative missionary preparation will thoroughly integrate a vibrant spirituality into every single area of learning and development, and not just add it as a devotional each morning before training begins. Finally, this kind of transformative emotional and spiritual health must be modelled not only by the trainers equipping missionary candidates, but be a vital dynamic in the lives of the missionary leaders and mentors who guide the development and ministry of missionaries on the field. 


Suggested Steps

  1. Take a Spiritual Gifts assessment along with a simple personality assessment to help discover your ministry identity—how your Spiritual Gifts “supercharge” your natural abilities. You can find these by searching on the internet.
  2. Using an inventory of spiritual maturity or in informal conversation with friends you know and trust, seek to identify where you are strong as well as the areas needing strengthening in our walk with the Lord.  The book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Pastor Peter Scazzero, has a useful survey on "emotionally healthy spirituality" which helps respondents identify areas on which they are truly healthy emotionally and spiritually, and the areas in which they may be stressed, over-extended and out of balance. Our spiritual life is heavily influenced by our emotional and psychological health. They are inter-related and cannot be separated. When believers are emotionally unhealthy, it impacts their spiritual life. Scazzero is one of the best authors to diagnose common areas of emotional unhealthiness. Click on the lick to see a short video about Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and to downlad a FREE EHS Personal Assessment by entering your Name and Email information. Peter Scazzero: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006.
  3. Consider finding a Spiritual Director - a mature mentor with a pastoral gifting with training and a heart to serve as a "soul guide" or spiritual guide.
  4. Throughout Scripture is the mandate to reflect, listen, meditate and contemplate who God is. The Psalms most clearly describe the practice of listening to God, reflecting on God's character and mighty acts, and meditating on His Word—Scripture. All of those spiritual exercises can be summarized in the contemporary idea of contemplation. There are literally 100's of wonderful books by evangelical authors today in the area of Spiritual Formation and Direction. The following books may serve as introductions to this important area:
    • Joyce Huggett. The Joy of Listening to God: Hearing the Many Ways God Speaks to Us. (Intervarsity Press, 1986.) In contemplation the Lord calls us from our preoccupation with self and our overbusyness to focus on him and him only. Contemplation is one way that God's saints have discovered greater intimacy with God through the ages. In extended times of prayerful silence, the Holy Spirit teaches us to pray (Rom 8:26). Huggett's chapter 1-5 introduce the reader to tuning into God, our calling to contemplate, preparing to contemplate, and continuing to contemplate.
    • In his classic 1978 book, The Celebration of Discipline (Harper & Row, 1978, 1983), Richard Foster introduces ten biblical spiritual disciples for intentional spiritual growth. His chapters of Meditation, Prayer, Study and Solitude all comment on contemplation. Christian meditation, Foster writes, is simply the ability to hear God's voice and obey his Word.
    • Dallas Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God (InterVarsity Press, 1984, 1993, 1999). Being close to God means communicating with Him—telling Him what is on our hearts in prayer and hearing and understanding what he is saying to us. It is this second half of our conversation with God that is both important and difficult. They key is to focus on building our personal relationship with our Creator through silence, listening and contemplation.
    • Spiritual formation author Ruth Haley Barton gives practical advice on how to seek God in the crucible of ministry. In Sacred Rhythms (InterVarsity Press, 2006), she explains the importance of listening, silence and Scripture in growing deeper in God. In Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership (IVPress, 2008), she includes contemplation as the spiritual practice through which Jesus' followers learn to pay attention to Him, and prepare their hearts to hear from Him.
    • David G. Benner in Opening to God: Lectio Divina and Life as Prayer (IVPress, 2010), introduces the reader to the timeless practice of contemplative Bible reading. He suggests contemplative prayer is not communication with God, but communion with God. As we open ourselves to Him, God does the spiritual work of transformation in us. In this thoughtful book, the author describes prayer as Attending, Responding, Being and the Life of Prayer, or Prayer as Life.

Physical Health

There are several good resources available.

Where there is no doctor - originally written in the 1970s - translated into around 100 languages - and chapters available to download as pdf from :

A useful organisation is Thrive-Worldwide - they have a wealth of experience and information about health, family life and emotional well being.  They also provide a range of training.  See:

A classic on missionary stress is Marjorie Foyle's book: Honourably wounded. Stress among Christian workers

Maintaining an exercise plan can be of real help. 

Other useful resources that cover far more than physical health:

Other Resources on Spiritual, Emotional and Physical Health

See the section on Family Life and Member Care

Many helpful tools to help maintain emotional and spiritual health from Member Care.

The Global Generosity Movement provides help, advice and many resources in giving to others which is a fundamental characteristic of the Christian.

David G. Benner. The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery. IVPress, 2004.

Larry Crabb. Connecting: A Radical New Vision. Word, 1997.

Alan Loy McGinnis. The Friendship Factor. Augsburg, 1979.

Help from Helen Watts for workers returning from abroad