What Does Missionary Work Mean? Definition And Examples

Many Christians use the term “missionary”, but oddly enough it isn’t used once in the Bible. Jesus never tells his disciples to go and do missionary work, but yet it is one of the most important types of work Christians can do.

What does missionary work mean? Missionary work means following Jesus first and walking by the Holy Spirit as you spread the gospel and make disciples of every nation. This is accomplished through building relationships with unbelievers, serving them, and living interculturally with them.

Missionary work means:

Missionary work is an important job because Jesus says that the end will not come until every tribe, tongue, and nation has heard the good news.

He has given us the job to go and make disciples of these nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit so that Jesus can come back and bring us home.

Missionary Work Means: Following Jesus First

Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’

Matthew 16:24 ESV

Like any Christian, missionaries are called to follow Jesus first and love him with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Loving Jesus means having a relationship with him, knowing his will through the Word of God, the Bible, and following the lead of the Holy Spirit.

Before missionaries can minister to anyone else, they must let Jesus minister to them first and love him more than even their own family members.

A great example of this radical love for Jesus is from the lives of Floyd and Sally McClung. Called to Kabul, Afghanistan, and then to the Red Light District in Amsterdam, Floyd and Sally left everything, even their family to reach the unreachable for Jesus’ sake.

They loved Jesus so much, that they denied themselves, took up their cross, and even raised a family in the hardest, darkest parts of the world.

Throughout each dangerous transition, however, God was on the move and helped them protect their kids as well as used their family as a light to others.

Their incredible act of loving Jesus first then helped them to love others and be willing to take up their cross for the sake of the gospel.

If you’d like to read about Floyd and Sally McClung’s story, click here.

Missionary Work Means: Loving and Serving Others Before Yourself

After loving Jesus first, missionaries are called to love others and serve them before themselves. A good way to remember this is through the acronym JOY. Jesus, Others, Yourself.

The person who modeled this method best was, of course, Jesus himself. He loved and glorified the Father above all else, and was on earth to fulfill the Father’s purposes.

That purpose was to share the kingdom of heaven with others, serve them, and ultimately suffer so that those who believed would be saved.

Missionary work is similar. Like Jesus, we are called to serve others before ourselves.

An example of this would be Jesus washing the disciples feet.

Jesus knew that the Father had given everything into his hands, that he had come from God, and that he was going back to God.

John 13:3 CSB

This is where you expect Jesus to make a long speech about how great he was, how the Father had given everything to him, and how he was King. Jesus had every right to do this, but instead…

(H)e got up from supper, laid aside his outer clothing, took a towel, and tied it around himself. Next, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel tied around him.

John 13:4-5 CSB

I don’t know about you, but if I knew I was about to die, I would not be washing my friend’s feet, and not just friends, but friends who would betray, deny and abandon me. It seems backward.

But this is the will of the Father, for people who are following his call on their life to love and serve others before themselves.

This is why missionary work is so important, because through loving and serving others, people may come to know Christ and be saved.

Missionary Work Means: Sharing The Gospel

Now, those who missionaries love and serve wouldn’t be fully loved without being told the greatest news of all time: the gospel.

The goal of missionary work is to share the good news of the gospel.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 ESV

Sharing the gospel can be done in a million and one ways, and possibly more. Whether spreading the gospel means sharing it through street evangelism, entertainment, a conversation at a coffee shop, in a business, or at the market.

Wherever missionaries are they are called to go and tell just like Jesus told Mary to go and tell the disciples that he has risen.

Jesus told the disciples that he sent out in pairs of two to proclaim the message of the kingdom of heaven.

He gave them specific instructions, and all the while whenever they were to follow the instructions of sharing the gospel, they were to do it as they go.

As you go, proclaim, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’

Matthew 10:7 CSB

Missionary work is not a 9-5 job. It is not something to clock in and out of. It is sharing the gospel on the go, wherever you go.

Perhaps this is why Paul said in Ephesians 6:15 to have our feet sandaled with the readiness of the gospel of peace so that we are ready to share it whenever and wherever.

Missionary Work Means: Making Disciples Who Make Disciples

Missionary work doesn’t stop at sharing the gospel, or else individuals who heard it would be left on their own to figure out how to navigate their new faith. This is where discipleship comes in.

A missionary’s job is to disciple new believers who have accepted the gospel message so that they can mature in their faith, not fall away from it, and stand firm in their belief in God’s word and who Jesus is.

Discipleship also helps new believers learn how to share the gospel themselves and connect with people through the sharing of their testimony and of God’s word.

This is why Jesus said to go and make disciples, not to go and make Christians, or even missionaries.

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.

Matthew 28:19-20

This passage is often referred to as the Great Commission, which is really the missionary’s mission statement.

Making disciples means making followers of Jesus, and this is accomplished through loving and serving others and building relationships with them.

This is done by being in a community or fellowship with people so that they can see what God’s family really looks like.

The family of God, or Body of Christ, is meant to lift each other up, carry one another’s burdens, and disciple one another.

A great rule of thumb for discipling or for being a missionary is to have someone pouring into you as a mentor and then pour into someone yourself.

This way, discipleship happens by encouraging one another, baptizing new believers, and learning about God’s words and commands together, just like Jesus said to do.

The great thing to note here is that this missionary work is never done alone. Jesus promises that he will be with us until the end of the age and he sends us his Holy Spirit to help us.

Missionary Work Means: Caring For The Least of These

Jesus tells us that whatever we do for the least of these, we do it for him. Who are the least of these?

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

Matthew 25:34-35 ESV

Jesus’ heart has always been for the most desperate, the people we would think of as ‘too far gone’ and then forgotten. Jesus himself hung out with prostitutes and sinners, never excusing their sin but instead forgiving them and loving them.

In the same way, a missionary’s work, as well as any Christian’s, is to care for the least of these and be the hands and feet of Jesus.

They are to be his hands and feet for children, the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, and the prisoners. We are called to love them and care for them as if these people were Jesus himself.

The Bible is clear about this work and its importance, and according to James, we are also to care for orphans and widows.

Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.

James 1:27a CSB

Now, this doesn’t mean that every single Christian has to commit themselves to give up everything they have to help orphans and widows specifically.

God has given us each a purpose in this world to spread the gospel and help the least of these, and this work could be lived out in various ways for different missionaries.

However, missionary work does not shy away from the outcasts of society and is not ashamed of the true gospel that is able to save anyone who believes in Jesus and confesses with their mouths that he is Lord.

Jesus wishes that everyone would be saved, even the least of these.

Missionary Work Means: Living Interculturally

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase that you can be a missionary wherever you are, whether that’s across the world, or in your neighborhood. And while this is true, for the most part, missionaries who go overseas for their ministry must live interculturally.

This means that they are integrating their lifestyle, language, customs, and even their wardrobe to that of the native culture they are in.

If we are to win people over for Christ, we cannot expect to wait for them to learn our language, our customs, and even our preconceptions so that they may learn about the gospel.

To share the gospel in a way that will reach people and touch their hearts is to contextualize it for them in a way they can understand through their social and cultural backgrounds.

This is why you see missionaries dressing like the locals they are living with in order to relate to them.

If missionaries care enough to alter their lives to look like the lives of the people in the culture they are in, doesn’t that show how much they care for the people?

This doesn’t mean to conform to the world and live in the culture’s sinful habits. No, rather we are to be in the world and not of it. We don’t have to be conformed to the world but instead transformed by the renewing of our mind so that we can love people like Jesus loves.

In fact, Jesus himself made the biggest change towards intercultural living.

Think about it, missionaries usually from America find it hard to adjust to culture shock in a third or second world country.

Imagine what it would be like for Jesus who went from sitting on the throne in heaven, to humbling himself by becoming a man to live here on earth.

Jesus wasn’t even able to live like a king on earth, but rather as a simple carpenter’s son, someone who would grow up to later do ministry with fishermen and sinners. Talk about culture shock.

Jesus didn’t stop there though, he chose to suffer and die as well and give up his life for us. And then, he rose again.

We do not have a God who cannot sympathize with us, and when he calls us to missionary work, he calls us to live interculturally like he did, so that everyone will get a chance to understand the gospel and accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

Missionary Work Means: Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone

Similarly to living interculturally, missionary work means getting out of your comfort zone.

It’s not always easy to serve and love others, and it’s not always easy to share the gospel with people. But, Jesus promises us that whenever the moment comes, the Holy Spirit will tell us what to say and what to do.

Missionary work pushes God’s people to get out of the comfortable box where they rely on what they know and forces the missionary to trust in God for miracles and for strength despite the bleakest of circumstances.

Perhaps this is why many missionaries you may have met are so faith-filled and have multiple stories of radical obedience.

When God calls us to follow Jesus and become missionaries, he isn’t saying that our lives will be neat, tidy, and safe, in fact, they may very well be filled with tribulation. But Jesus says to take heart because he has overcome the world.

Though missionary work may be uncomfortable and hard at times, it’s worth it. And telling people about Jesus so that all may worship him together is completely worth it.

Missionary Work Means: Trusting God to Provide

Just like trusting God for strength in the midst of the hard and uncomfortable, missionary work means trusting in Him to provide.

Story after story of God’s provision for those in missions work abound, and there’s no telling how many times God has provided us with things we didn’t even know we needed.

And my God will fully supply your every need according to his glorious riches in the Messiah Jesus.

Philippians 4:19 ESV

God tells us that he knows what we need, and shouldn’t we trust him as a good Father who wants to give us good gifts?

God owns the riches in the storerooms of heaven and a cattle of a thousand hills, and he’s looking for his children to will ask, seek, and knock for his will to be done.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.

Matthew 6:33 CSB

When we seek the kingdom of God first and his righteousness, we won’t need to worry about what we need because God will provide it for us, sometimes even in miraculous ways.

I remember one time I was fundraising for a mission trip and was working for a woman to save up some funds. I knew it wouldn’t be enough, so as I worked I complained and worried to God.

“God,” I cried out “how will I raise this money?”

The question I should’ve been asking in anticipation was “God, how will you provide for me?”, because that very moment the woman I worked for walked in with a brand new wallet.

She explained how she had found it at a resort she was at and couldn’t find the owner anywhere. When she finally opened it, she found a note that read “mission trip” and $400 in cash inside.

My jaw dropped, and to top it off, my wallet at the time was falling apart. The amount of $400 didn’t cover all that I needed, but it gave me the strength and the motivation to fundraise the remainder so that Jesus’ name and God’s glory could be known.

Here, God not only provided financially, but he provided me with strength and new hope and reminded me that he was right there with me the whole time, knowing exactly what I needed.

Missionary Work Means: Being Christ’s Coworker

After talking about God’s provision and how he reminds us to rely on his strength and power, not our own, I decided to note that we are coworkers for the gospel.

This is not a one man band, and we are not Superman or Wonder Woman. We are not the heroes of the story either, Jesus is.

He is worthy for us to give up our lives for the sake of his gospel so that everyone might get a chance to love and worship him.

Paul, one of the earliest missionaries, called himself and his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ coworkers.

Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s coworkers. 

You are God’s field, God’s building. According to God’s grace that was given to me, I have laid a foundation as a skilled master builder, and another builds on it. But each one is to be careful how he builds on it.

1 Corinthians 3:8-10 CSB

Missionary work does not mean taking credit for all the noble, holy work one does. It is all for the glory of God, and when we recognize we are coworkers in this work, we realize that we are not in it alone.

God has sent, is sending, and will send others to help us and build upon the foundation for eternity that he has established in everyone’s souls.

It is not our job to convict or save, that job belongs to the Holy Spirit and to Jesus, but our job is to obey God and plant or build whatever he tells us to.

Missionary Work Means: Walking By The Spirit

Last but not least, missionary work means walking by the Spirit. As mentioned before, this work is not meant to be done alone. It is meant to be directed by the Holy Spirit.

Apart from the Holy Spirit and Jesus, we can do nothing. That’s why we can plant and water all we want, but the only thing that will matter is the growth that God gives.

Because of this, we are called to listen to the Holy Spirit who guides us into all grace and truth.

To know the voice of the Holy Spirit, we must stay in the scriptures and get to know who he is and God’s character.

It is his love letter to us after all, and it’s the best way to get to know his promises, purposes, and will for our life.

Therefore, missionary work means to walk by the Spirit, and trust him to open doors for the gospel.

Missionary Work Matters

Missionary work is hard work, but it is the most important work in the world to do.

Jesus says that the end will not come until every tribe, tongue, and nation has heard the good news, and he has given us the job to go and make disciples of these nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is worthy to be praised and worshipped by all peoples. He is worthy of the work that missionaries set out to do, and we can know that when we do go, he will be with us until the very end of the age.