Missionary Training

Three Books Every Missionary Should Read Before They Go


Written by McKenna Von Gunten

I sat close to the fireplace as the rain poured down in floods outside the window. In my lap rested a book about Sadhu Sundar Singh. Sundar Singh was a missionary to his own people in northern India and Tibet. He risked his life walking barefoot over the dangerous Himalayas to preach the gospel to Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs–even thieves. Persecuted by his father, rejected by villages, and poisoned multiple times by his brother, he remained steadfast in his faith. He devoted his life as a missionary to abiding in Christ, having no fear even in the face of death. He committed to reading the Bible daily, praying, and meditating on Who God is, becoming more and more passionate about sharing God’s love with his native people. No one knows how he died, as he was last seen crossing the Himalayas in making an attempt to reach the Tibetans one last time. Sundar is one of my favorite missionaries. His story of courage, persistence, and determination has inspired me in my walk with Christ to never give up when things get hard and to always finished what I start. Having been raised in a mission minded family, one of my deepest passions was reading missionary books. As a future missionary, I can honestly say that the books I have read have shaped my perspective on the world and God’s heart for all nations to know His name.

What books should missionaries read?

Each individual who gave these recommendations is passionate about loving the Lord, people, and serving on the mission field. Many have had years of experience in ministry overseas and would gladly answer any questions you have concerning life, the Bible, and what it looks like to become a missionary. Considering that aspiring missionaries are all over the world, they’ve gladly shared their wisdom and insight on books that have impacted their personal lives and are helpful for learning how to be effective on the mission field. This is their response to the question: If an aspiring missionary could only read three books before going on the mission field, what would you recommend?

Melanie Hurlbut

Melanie Hurlbut recommended the first three book to aspiring missionaries who want to understand their role in the world while impacting every sphere of influence in society. Melanie has a MA in Religious Studies and over twenty years of experience in full time mission work in Malaysia as a base director with YWAM. She currently teaches classes at BGU and is passionate about teaching students the importance of knowing the Bible for themselves before going out on the mission field. “The Book That Made Your World” by Vishal Mangalwadi “To be an effective missionary, you first need to understand of the basis of the Bible before you understand anything else. In this book, Vishal Mangalwadi gives phenomenal insight for understanding how the Bible is effective in discipling nations in every sphere of influence.”   “Made to Flourish: Beyond Quick Fixes to a Thriving Organization” by Shelley G. Trebesch “It’s important for a missionary to go back to the beginning of God’s intentional purposes for mankind and address the human vocation. With a focus on leadership within cross-cultural settings, this book will give you an understanding of your calling so that you can help others understand what they were created for in God’s original design.”   “The Legacy of William Carey: A Model for the Transformation of a Culture” by Vishal and Ruth Mangalwadi “A model for how the gospel impacts every sphere of society to disciple a nation. Aspiring missionaries can learn from William Carey’s story to use their skills, trades, and knowledge to bring the good news of Christ to unreached people groups and watch a nation transform before their eyes.”  

Matt Harbour

These next three book are recommended by Matt Harbour for missionaries who are wanting a deeper insight into how the Kingdom of God and the church relate to one another while also addressing the issues that arise in cross-cultural missions. Matt has a MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University and a BA in English Education from John Brown University. He has over fifteen years of experience in world missions and has started two schools. He is currently a professor at BGU and is passionate about teaching students about the early church, discipleship, and dualism from a Biblical worldview. “The Kingdom: The Emerging Rule of Christ Among Men” by George Dana Boardman “Believers in the church have lost the power to affect cultures because they have lost their understanding of the Kingdom. Those beginning their missionary journeys would do very well to explore these rich and accessible works. George Dana Boardman was the stepson of the well-known 19 Century missionary Adoniram Judson, and his insight from studying the Kingdom of God is essential for any aspiring missionary.” “The Church: The Divine Ideal” by George Dana Boardman “This book challenges believers to allow Christ to build His own church while letting the Kingdom of God flourish on earth as He designed it to be. “The Kingdom” and “The Church” by George Dana Boardman are both are a powerful exegetical study of how the kingdom of God and the church are related. The subject matters are immensely important and central to the mission of God.” “Waterbuffalo Theology” by Kosuke Koyama “Kosuke Koyama was a Japanese theologian and former missionary to northern Thailand. This book gives a very interesting picture of cross-cultural missions with some of the theological and practical issues that arise in regard to contextualization. It was written from an Easterner’s perspective of cross-cultural missions, which might be very eye-opening for younger, Western missionaries.”

Steve Eliason

Steve Eliason recommended these next three books for aspiring missionaries on the importance of understanding worldviews so you can present the gospel in a culturally relevant way, also known as contextualization. Steve has a MA in Intercultural Studies from Bethany International University, Singapore. He also has eleven years of field experience in cross-cultural missions and church planting in the Philippines. He currently teaches courses on cross-cultural communications and evangelism, sharing his personal stories to teach students the importance of contextualization. “Contextualization in the New Testament: Patterns for Theology and Mission” by Dean Flemming “Contextualization is such an important concept in missions, in fact, if you could only choose one word to define cross-cultural missions, it would be “contextualization.” There are many good books on the subject, but the reason this one is so good is that it actually uses good contextualization examples from scripture to define and clarify what today’s missionaries should do.” “Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change” by Paul G. Hiebert “If I had to choose one author of missions it would be Hiebert. Worldview has been a hot topic in missions circles for the past 20 years or so, and this one is written from a missionary perspective and deals with the specific challenges one faces when dealing with people of drastically different worldviews and societies, along with a connection to contemporary Western issues. He gives many good examples to clarify a complicated subject.” “Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity” by Nancy Pearcey “This is another worldview book, but it gives more attention to the non-biblical issues that Westerners and those influenced by Westerners have to deal with when presenting the Gospel. It brought so much clarity to me about my own culture and identified areas of my own thinking where I had unintentionally embraced a non-biblical but Western way of looking at life. It served to open my eyes to understanding my biases, which directly influenced my understanding of others’.”

Kenny Ortiz

Kenny Ortiz recommends the next three books to missionaries who are passionate about the grace of God and reaching the unreached while inspiring others to do the same. Kenny is the Director of Bethany LEAD Internship at BGU. He has more than fifteen years of pastoral ministry and church leadership experience. He currently teaches LEAD classes in the fall semesters and is passionate about challenging students in their theology. “What’s so Amazing About Grace?” by Philip Yancey “This book explains grace better than any other contemporary book. It dives into the depths of God’s love and mercy in a way that will cause people to want to live for Jesus. If you’re wanting to be a great missionary and a great preacher of the gospel, then you better be a great preacher of grace.” “The Life and Diary of David Brainerd” by Jonathan Edwards “Jonathan Edwards tell the story of David Brainerd’s missionary work among the Native Americans in such a way that it will make you want to sacrifice everything to live for Jesus. David inspired Jonathan with a passion to reach all people and to challenge the apathy of cultural Christianity in the 1900’s. This is a great book for those who want to be inspired in their work on the mission field.” “Let the Nations Be Glad” by John Piper “John Piper demonstrates the need for human individuals to be satisfied in Christ while providing a sound theological foundation for missions. He explores the means of reaching all nations and whole communities with joy while challenging the church to have proper worship to fuel missionary work overseas. One of the best books in my opinion on reaching the unreached nations for God.”

Ed Dudek

The final three books are recommended by Ed Dudek in his passion for all missionaries to continue abiding in Christ while in ministry. While he recommended the first book for this post, the last two are books that he assigns to students for his classes on Theology and the Synoptic Gospels, which are highly valuable for missionaries who want to go into a deeper study of God’s Word. Ed has his Doctorates in Ministry and MA in Intercultural Studies at Bethany International University, Singapore. He has eighteen years of field experience in cross cultural missions in Brazil, thirteen of which Ed served as the Director of the Bethany Seminary and Bible Institute. He has taught abroad and in the States for thirty-five years and is currently a professor at BGU teaching students on the gospel message and Biblical theology. “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers “I spend almost all of my time with commentaries, but the one book I would suggest is this book.” Oswald spent a considerable amount of time in the scriptures and his daily devotionals reflect how deeply he invested into his relationship with God. Each word will challenge and grow your faith, as God will use these daily readings to stretch your knowledge of His character. “Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine” by Wayne Grudem Don’t be fooled by how massive this book is. It contains a valuable introduction to Biblical Doctrine for all believers with little use of technical terms on Christianity. Wayne Grudem writes in a way that is easy to understand deep subjects in the Christian faith and gives practical application for applying scriptures to daily life. Based on his studies of the scriptures and cross-referencing multiple sources, this book is for any aspiring missionary who wants to understand the Bible and share their faith with others. “A Harmony of the Four Gospels” by Orville E. Daniel For those who are wanting a unified narrative of Jesus’ life on earth, this harmony of the four gospels (not to be misinterpreted as a synopsis or a parallel) is one of the easiest ways to further improve your understanding of the gospel message and bring it into contextualization before going on the mission field. It is important for any missionary to understand and share accurate stories from the Bible while also using commentaries to get the bigger picture that you won’t get by just reading the text. While this is not a commentary, it captures the detailed story of Christ in the NIV Bible.

Read more books

If you’re wanting to grow in your understanding of how God and missions interconnect, then read more books. Books are important for a missionaries growth in education, ministry, and understanding God’s heart for all people to be reached with the gospel. As a future missionary, or if you’re already on the field, I encourage you to pick three books from this post to read throughout this next year. The more you study the Bible and read books on discipleship, leadership, Biblical theology and worldviews, missions, and autobiographies of missionaries who have pioneered before you, the greater influence and effectiveness you’ll have in missions.

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