December 16, 2019
All Christian missionaries have the same overarching goal. However, because missionaries go to various countries and cultures, their mission work will look different.
What do missionaries do? Missionaries seek to fulfill the Great Commission. They are working to make disciples of all nations, to baptize them and teach them to follow all the commands of Jesus. In order to do so, they witness, evangelize, plant churches, pray, and worship. They also bring the values of the Kingdom of God through their love for people. They improve the quality of life for people as much as possible through sanitation, health clinics, schools, and businesses.
In this blog, I will explain what missionaries do and why they do it. I use scriptural references and examples. First, I will discuss the spiritual aspect of a missionary, then I will cover the holistic approach of missionary work.
Making Disciples of All Nations
The overarching goal of a missionary is to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. They are to proclaim that Jesus is The Way, The Truth, and the Life. This doesn’t mean that one individual missionary will do this alone, rather it is the goal of the entire Body of Christ, whether they remain local or cross-cultural. A missionary is someone who recognizes his or her part in the Great Commission to be that of leaving home and going to another country or culture.
This command was given by Jesus Himself before He ascended into heaven. He proclaimed in Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Fulfilling the Great Commission
Therefore, part of being a missionary is making disciples, baptizing these disciples, and teaching them to obey Jesus’ commands. Making disciples is a long process. It involves walking beside people for a significant amount of time. Jesus walked with His disciples for years. We may not have years with an individual, however, true discipleship is much more than a one-time meeting. Furthermore, discipleship is deeper than an individual attending a church service.
True discipleship is bearing one another burdens and walking out the faith with them. Discipleship is teaching an individual to walk in the truth. If we are not involved in the life of our disciples, we may need to consider whether or not we are actually discipling them.
The next part of the great commission is baptism. We use a fully submerged water baptism because that is the model we see in scripture. Baptism symbolizes the new life that we have in Christ. It represents our sins being washed away. Next, we are told to teach the new disciples what Jesus has commanded us. This means that we must know the commands of Jesus and be following them in our daily lives. If we are to be missionaries, then we too must be discipled by the teachings of Jesus.
Making disciples of all nations and fulfilling the great commission looks different depending on the area of the world. However, there are common ways that the gospel of Jesus is spread and that disciples are made. The first tactic is witnessing. A witness is typically noted as someone who has seen or experienced an event. In the case of the 12 disciples and early church, many of them actually witnessed the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Today we do not have the ability to physically witness those events. However, we can witness how Jesus has worked in our lives and the lives of others. A missionary witnesses about the change and transformation that has come in his or her life through the gospel. Missionaries must have a knowledge of Jesus and the Holy Spirit within their lives, that far exceeds facts.
Their knowledge should be an experience of the faithfulness, power, goodness, and love of God. Note, all our continuously growing in these areas, even missionaries. It is not mandatory that missionaries know all there is to know about the Bible or Jesus. Yet, they should have a solid foundation of truth.
Next, is evangelizing. Evangelizing is commonly understood as preaching the gospel, and sharing stories and testimonies about Jesus in hopes of making a convert. A missionary may approach a non-believer and begin a conversation. Then, they may lead that conversation into something about their faith. Evangelizing can also include prayer.
Many cross-cultural missionaries take the stance that Jesus did. They pray for the sick, they cast out demons, and they pray for miracles. Then they have a platform to share the gospel. Evangelization looks different in each culture. Some countries are so restricted and dangerous that people cannot openly speak about Christianity. Therefore, they have to find other indiscreet tactics and locations to spread the gospel.
Once there are converts, missionaries are able to plant churches. These churches don’t always meet in buildings or establishments as we see in the West. Instead, they often meet in houses or other locations. Cross-cultural churches tend to be smaller than Western churches because there is a risk of persecution. For this reason, the services and meetings must be smaller for safety.
Despite the appearance of these churches, they are powerful. Missionaries will raise up local leaders to continue these churches. They will teach them what they need to know to walk in truth and righteousness. Then, they will give their leadership to an individual from that area. The missionary usually moves to another location or works their efforts elsewhere in another area of the society.
Many church planting movements have begun from foreign missionaries spreading the gospel to locals. The locals take the gospel and they spread it and make their own disciples. This is how churches multiply. One church is established, then that church establishes another. The rest is like a domino effect.
A huge and crucial part of a missionary’s life and even job description is prayer. Missionaries lead new believers in prayer. They must teach their disciples how to pray. Missionaries also use prayer as a ministry and evangelism tool.
A missionaries ultimate boss is the Lord God. Therefore, prayer is a way to receive instruction, correction, and strategy. Prayer is what sustains missionaries. Missionaries with a lacking prayer life rarely make it on the field. Communion and connection must remain with the Lord, otherwise, the missionary efforts are in vain.
In the same way, worship is used within the established churches. Musical worship is very common, yet a lifestyle of worship is necessary. God doesn’t want His people to do many good works or actions that are not from a genuine and loving heart. Missionaries must worship and honor the Lord in all areas of their life and in all ways. Musical worship can be a beautiful expression of this and a connection to the Lord.
If you are interested in learning more about why Christians and missionaries worship with music, refer to “How and Why Christians Worship with Music (Biblical Examples)”. Additionally, if you are curious about how missionaries and Christians can express worship without music, refer to “Ten Types of Worship that Don’t Include Music.”
Caring for the Oppressed
Apart from spreading the gospel, missionaries also bring the values of the Kingdom of God into an area. That means, they love others as they love themselves. They do all that they can to improve the lives and conditions of the people. They seek holistic healing and restoration in the spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental health of the people.
This is why many missionaries also pair health clinics, sanitation projects, equal human rights, and sustainable business with their spiritual discipleship. They run schools, orphanages, farms, and various local businesses.
Proverbs 31:8-9 commands, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” God cares about the needs of people in this world, not only in eternity. We must realize that evil is not God’s desire or heart. He does not want people to lack. As His people, we should do what we can to make earth reflect His heavenly Kingdom.
James 1:27 also explains, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Missionaries take a holistic approach to the Kingdom of God. They focus on all areas, yet they place the highest value on eternal and spiritual matters.