Abc of missionary work
Eternity, hell, and heaven still exist. The goal of missionary work should be for people to be saved and to come in contact with God
Before Jesus left this world, he gave his disciples the missionary command: to go into the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. These were the last instructions given by Jesus:
- (Matt 28:18-20) And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, All power is given to me in heaven and in earth.
19 Go you therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
20 Teaching them to observe all things whatever I have commanded you: and, see, I am with you always, even to the end of the world. Amen.
- (Mark 16:15,16) And he said to them, Go you into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
16 He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be damned.
Next, we will study missionary work, or work done by people who are obeying Jesus’ command. The plan is to study it and point out matters that should be taken into account.
- (Rom 15:20-24) Yes, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man's foundation:
21 But as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand.
22 For which cause also I have been much hindered from coming to you.
23 But now having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come to you;
24 Whenever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you: for I trust to see you in my journey, and to be brought on my way thitherward by you, if first I be somewhat filled with your company.
- (2 Cor 10:15,16) Not boasting of things without our measure, that is, of other men's labors; but having hope, when your faith is increased, that we shall be enlarged by you according to our rule abundantly,
16 To preach the gospel in the regions beyond you, and not to boast in another man's line of things made ready to our hand.
We find one of these important points in the Bible and the words of Paul: Paul always tried to preach the Gospel where Christ was not known and where the need was the greatest. He always aimed at first going into areas that were hard to reach.
We should ask ourselves even now: are we reaching all people and all groups of people? The same people may hear the same message year in and year out while others farther away have been forgotten. This may mean that there are a hundred or a thousand times more missionaries in certain areas than there are in areas where little or no missionary work is being carried out. This is a huge contradiction that is surely not right.
The 10/40 Window is a geographic region in which people have had maybe the fewest opportunities to hear the Gospel. This is the area where the Gospel has not been taken to most people who may be Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews or people who believe in animistic religions. We should have a vision and objective of how to reach these people. It is not good that missionary work is focused in certain places where there are plenty of missionaries while they are in short supply in other areas. Thus, we need a more extensive vision to see the needs in other areas. A good book about this topic is Praying Through the Window III: The Unreached Peoples. This is a book identifying the peoples among whom there are the fewest missionaries. Most of these live in the 10/40 Window area. The book states the following:
Most of people who have not had the opportunity to hear the Gospel even once in their lives live in a zone extending from Northern Africa through Middle East to India and Asia. Missionaries call this area the 10/40 Window.
(...) Studies show that even though 97% of people to whom the Gospel has been preached the least live in countries in the 10/40 Window area, only around one per cent of all funds reserved for missionary work is being used in this area. Why is this? Congregations and missions reply, “We are unable to work there very effectively”. The spiritual, political and economical conditions in the 10/40 Window area are highly difficult. We need a true breakthrough of the Spirit. (1)
NEEDS OF MISSIONARY WORK. In missionary work as in any spiritual work, there are matters that should be taken into account if one is to be successful. The most important include prayer, financial needs and focus on the Gospel. If these matters are not in order, missionary work cannot proceed.
Prayer. Prayer, the most important facet of missionary work, should not be forgotten. We can see from the Bible that the most well-known missionary of the New Testament, Paul, considered prayer important. He often asked congregations to pray for him so that the Gospel would spread. This is an example we should follow. We must pray for missionary work and any spiritual work for it to proceed. We should make this our daily habit.
- (Col 4:2-4) Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving;
3 With praying also for us, that God would open to us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds:
4 That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.
- (Eph 6:18,19) Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;
19 And for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel,
- (Rom 15:30) Now I beseech you, brothers, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in your prayers to God for me
- (1 Thess 5:25) Brothers, pray for us.
- (2 Thess 3:1) Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you
Meeting financial needs is almost as important as praying. We must have an objective and a vision of how important missionary work is, and we should feel that we must support it. If our values are wrong – if we are interested only in beautiful churches (which is a common sin in the Western world) or our own comfort and living standards – we are in the wrong. However, if we keep in mind that we all of us have only this one life and we need Christ in order to step into the eternity, we will see things in the right light. Paul wrote about how important preaching the Gospel is, and this also refers to missionary work. If we are not missionaries ourselves, we can support those who are.
- (Rom 10:13-15) For whoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!
Lack of funding leading to nobody being sent to do missionary work can thus prevent spreading of the Gospel. Many missions involved in media work and traditional missionary work have noticed that there are plenty of open doors through which the Gospel can be preached but they are unable to step in because of insufficient funds. Congregations have failed to understand the significance of missionary work and reaching those far away.
I wish we could understand more fully why we should be more passionate and blessed givers, why we should learn how to obtain funds through prayer alone and in groups and why we should be more open and honest about this issue even if someone may be offended. I strongly stress these issues based on the two verses of the Scripture I quoted. Not everybody accepts why we must do so, but the reason is: lack of funding clearly delays God’s work. Many people do not like it when I say this but I – as many other people who write about missionary work – am convinced that it is true. Stephen Gaukroger also wants us to notice this fact. He reminds us that most missionary work is currently experiencing financial difficulties. Missions have been forced to let employees go, freeze wages and limit the number of new projects, and the lack of funds clearly influences the rate at which literature is spread. (2)
Concentration on the Gospel. One direction in which Western missions have mistakenly drifted in the past few decades is that they concentrate too much on social work instead of preaching the Gospel. This means that they have sacrificed much time and reserves in, for example, building hospitals and schools, development aid work and feeding the hungry but have forgotten the most important: preaching the Gospel. All these activities are, of course, good in themselves and there is nothing bad about them but what is unfortunate is that they fill only the physical needs of the people and not the most important need, the salvation of soul from eternal damnation. Such missionary work only gets people to feel a little nicer before their death but it does not save their souls. This type of social work without clear preaching of the Gospel is quite inefficient because it does not usually lead people to God.
In addition, it is good to understand that many social problems, even hunger, disappear by themselves when the Gospel reaches people. The reason for this is that in some countries, such as in India, the religion itself can be a partial reason for the famine. In the Hindu religion, rats are regarded as a holy animal and are thus not eliminated, and they annually destroy a large part of the grain in India. Similarly, “holy cows” are protected, and they eat grain. If there were no such beliefs and the Gospel reached people, this alone would remove a majority of the problems. That is why preaching the Gospel by local people is needed.
When searching for an answer to these questions, I faced poor, often little educated national brothers who did evangelic work in pioneer areas. They did not have anything material to be given to the people to whom they preached – no agricultural education, no medical help, no training programs. But hundreds of souls were saved and within a few years, a group of congregations were established. What did these brothers do right in achieving such results, while many being in a better position failed?
The answer is that we understand what the missionary work is basically. There is nothing wrong in acts of charity – but we must not confuse them with preaching the Gospel.
(...) We must consider long and hard about the disastrous consequences a similar way of thinking has caused the congregation and its missionary work in this lost world. Could it be that millions of people are currently suffering in the flames of Hell because we were so focused on their physical needs that we ignored their actual need?
I’m sure that if we had preached pure Gospel in China and India during the past century – instead of the watered down version of the Sermon on the Mount – freedom and wellbeing would now prevail in most parts of Asia. True Gospel indirectly causes more social changes than all the effort in the world combined. (3)
Social work alone cannot help people with their spiritual problems either. It cannot give eternal life, but other spiritual problems also remain unresolved.
One such area is the influence of evil spirits. Modern and Western man cannot believe in the existence of the spirit world, but in those countries where there has been idolatry, witchcraft and occultism for centuries, the real problem is evil spirits, that is, how to get rid of them. Those missionaries who don’t take this into account, and how Jesus has a victory over evil spirits, can’t help people with their problems in this area. Social work alone, no matter how good, is not enough on its own:
My colleague from Fuller’s theological seminary, Dr. Charles Kraft talks about what he experienced in Nigeria. He tried to teach the truths of Romans to a small tribe. After a few months, the same people came to him and explained very politely that his teaching was good, but it did not meet their needs in any way. They needed wisdom in their nightly battle with the evil spirits who persecuted them. Dr. Kraft had to admit that he had unfortunately not been trained to deal with evil spirits. (4)
LOCAL WORKERS. An issue that has not been properly addressed is the support of local workers in countries like India and many Asian countries. Western missionaries have been extensively supported but the importance of the local congregation and national workers in evangelism have been forgotten. They have not been properly noticed, even though thousands of people are ready to go into full-time evangelism if they only get support. They are ready to leave for the mission field, but local congregations are not often able to support them, and that is why help from elsewhere is necessary. Western congregations have a good opportunity to help them. Supporting local workers is sensible, particularly in areas where congregations are already established. Southern India is one example of such a place.
When the local workers bear the main responsibility for evangelism, there are also several useful results. The following factors are especially important:
Advantage. Local workers are much less expensive to support than missionaries. They manage on a fraction of the costs of missionaries, or on a few dollars or euro per a day, while the expenses of missionaries are almost always higher.
Foreign missionaries can have expenses such as plane tickets, holiday trips to their home country, language and other education, school attendance of the children, visas and other payments and payments related to their style of life which has been materially on a higher level. All these factors together make the expenses up to ten times higher than those for local workers, which means much. This is an unfortunate fact.
Of course, missionaries are still needed, and their share is significant especially in areas in which the Gospel has not been preached, and in which there are not local workers. There are still such countries in the world. Likewise, technical and other assistance can be useful for the local congregations but the principle should always be that missionaries are only there to assist in the work. They do not lead it. Responsibility should be given to local workers, or it should be moved as soon as possible to them; otherwise, we will drift away from the model God meant for us to follow.
The same culture is a significant benefit in preaching the Gospel. A local worker is always in a better position because he knows his nation and its customs, taboos and appreciations. He speaks the same language and dresses and lives in the same way as his fellowmen, which makes it easier for people to receive the Gospel. They receive it much better than from foreign workers. K.P. Yohannan, the founder of Gospel for Asia, points this out in his important book ”Haaste joka lähtee sydämestä” (Revolution in World Missions):
Have the Asians rejected Christ? Not really. In many cases, they have rejected only those Western add-ons, which have stuck to the Gospel. Paul meant just this when saying that he wanted to be “all things to all men” in order to win even someone.
When the Asians tell about Christ to other Asians in a culturally acceptable way, the results are notable. One national worker, whom we support in Northwest-India, Jager is his name, has now preached in 60 villages and established 30 congregations in the difficult area of Punjab. He has led hundreds to Christ. On my recent journey to India, I dropped in to see Jager and his wife. I had to see for myself what kind of methods he used.
You can imagine my surprise when I observed that Jager did not use any special technology as his assistance – unless you want to call his scooter and tracts given by us “technology”. He lived exactly in the same way as others. He had a house of one room, which was made from manure and mud. The kitchen was outdoors, also made from mud – the same material from which all buildings of the region had been made. When cooking, his wife crouched by the open fire exactly in the same way as women of the neighbourhood. He and his wife were completely Indians. There was nothing foreign about them. (5)
TRAINING, DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITY
- (Eph 4:11,12) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
- (2 Tim 2:2) And the things that you have heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit you to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.
One key activity in missionary work is transferring responsibility to the local workers. This means that if a congregation has been created in a particular area because Gospel was preached there, further missionary work should be handled by the locals. Missionaries should not try to do everything themselves; instead, they should guide and instruct people to take on the responsibility for the work. The most important task of a missionary is teaching local workers so that he or she can ultimately let them take on the responsibility for the work. The local people should be made evangelists, teachers, shepherds and elders to care for the local congregation. Only in this way can local workers really get into the work. The missionary is allowed to advise them and give them instructions but always in the background. Congregations in which preparation and training have been invested usually grow faster than those congregations that have not done the same.
A good example of sharing responsibility is seen in the activities of the Apostles. When they came to a new place and started their work, they very soon shifted responsibility to local brothers by choosing from among them a few more reliable and advanced to serve as elders (Acts 14:21-23, Titus 1:5), and themselves moving onward to new areas. By no means did they stay to shepherd and lead people for years and years and to do everything by themselves, as often happens nowadays. Instead, they allowed local brothers to take care of daily duties and evangelism. This meant the congregation could grow in a healthy way and the Apostles themselves could move to work in new fields. Oswald J. Smith describes what can happen if this biblical model is used and the responsibility is shifted on local people:
Most foreign missionaries are afraid of trusting a local inhabitant. I remember one such case. The holiday of a man should have already begun long time ago, but he hesitated to leave. Years ago, he had assumed entire leadership of the mission station and answered for everything himself. He had not trained even a single local worker. Finally, he had no choice but leave.
At that time, another missionary happened to visit him. This was a man who used the biblical line of action. As he wanted to help his worried friend, this brother asked the missionary to call the leading local Christians. His purpose was to find among them someone or several persons who could be given the responsibility for the work. But this missionary, who had been for years their shepherd, gave quite a hopeless judgment for everyone. The first had the habit of lying, the second stole, the third had bad temper, the fourth was lazy, the fifth could by no means be trusted, the sixth did not have any abilities, the seventh was ignorant.
But he was surprised when the guest called all these incapable and dubious men and appointed them to positions of trust. One was called to be the preacher, the second treasurer, the third the supervisor of the work. Others were appointed evangelists, elders etc. And like this, everyone suddenly found themselves in a position of trust. And the tired, overstrained missionary went on a holiday.
A year passed. The missionary expected to see his whole work in pieces. But he was very surprised to see that everybody had done only good. The work had succeeded much better than ever before. Tens of souls had been won to the Lord. The congregation was absolutely flourishing. Evangelism meetings had been arranged. Money had been collected, the house of prayer had been repaired and more assembly rooms had been set up.
For the first time in their life, the local people had felt that they were responsible for something. As frightened and trembling, unused to bear the responsibility, they had begun their work, but now it was done in a biblical way, and God blessed it. What a revelation it was to the missionary, who had thought that he had to do all alone and without saving himself any pain. (6)
LOCAL CONGREGATION. The previous chapter proved how important it is to train people and transfer the responsibility to local people. Another need that is almost as important to understand the significance of the local congregation. We must understand that missionary work is not about creating a new office of a mission or a new branch of a denomination but creating a local congregation. If there is already a local congregation, the missionaries must help the already established congregation.
This biblical model has not always been followed in missionary work; instead, missionaries have built new branches of their mission/denomination or maybe introduced Western influences not well suited for the local culture. They have failed to understand that the local congregation managed by the local elders is a congregation complying with the model given to us in the New Testament, and the final result towards which we should strive. The primary objective of missionary work is naturally saving souls but another objective is establishing a local congregation instead of representing a specific mission. If this is not done, chaos will ensue and the work has been started on the wrong foot.
Watchman Nee stressed this objective in his book Concerning our Missions. He noticed that the work in his country easily concentrated around missions, which did not give room for the local congregation to develop. This was because the missions failed to understand how important the congregation is and that they should transfer the responsibility to the local people as early on as possible.
Why do missionaries often fail today? They keep the results of their work in their own hands. In other words, they consider their converts members of their mission and their missionary congregation instead of creating local congregations or leaving the converts to the already established local congregations to care. This causes the missionary to expand over time into a mighty mission, but hardly any local congregations can be found. (...) Nevertheless, missionary work as an apostolic mission is not absolutely non-biblical. What is clearly non-biblical is missionaries being intent on expanding their own mission instead of establishing local congregations.
(...) We have no reason to judge the Gospel work of our missionary brothers. Instead, we have plenty of reason to admire them. However, we are forced to question their methods in handling the fruits of the work. In the past hundred years, this has not led to the establishment of local congregations but to the establishment of missionary congregations, or the establishment of branch congregations of different denominations, represented by missionaries. We believe that this goes against the Word of God. The Bible does not mention building denominations: it only refers to local congregations. Please forgive me, God, if I'm wrong! (7)
Approaches. There are different approaches to missionary work: traditional missionary work, Bible translation, and “tent building” where missionary work is done while practicing another profession, as well as short-term missionary work through missions like Operation Mobilisation and Youth with a Mission. These missions offer a good way to study the everyday life of missionary work, and they have been a gate for longer-term missionary work for many.
One possible approach to missionary work is going in pairs or as a larger group to a place where workers are needed. This is possible if your work in your own location is established and there is greater need elsewhere. The benefit of this approach is that people working alone are more vulnerable to temptations while people working with at least one partner, preferably their own spouse, can cope better. This approach is also described in the Bible: Jesus sent his disciples usually in pairs. Furthermore, the Acts states that Paul usually had at least one person to assist him. First he had Barnabas and then other workers. Oswald J. Smith wrote:
I feel that many missions make a grave mistake by shouldering the responsibility of sending missionaries to work on their own. I cannot believe that there could be a better approach than that shown to us by Jesus and Paul. Jesus sent his disciples in pairs. Paul left with Barnabas, and when they no longer could work together, Paul chose Silas instead of going alone. Barnabas chose Mark, in his turn. And they continued their work this way.
(...) I would also like to say that if possible the partner should be your own wife. This way, the situation is ideal. After all, it has been written that “it is not good for the man to be alone”. Your wife will sympathize with you more than anyone else. She can fill a position nobody else could. However, if this is not possible, the person going to do missionary work should take as his partner a well-tried and well-known male worker with similar objectives, working methods and belief. Nobody should ever be sent alone. If this is done, the enemy can completely paralyze the missionary, and possibly also the work the missionary is doing. (8)
Spreading printed Gospel. In farming, one important stage is sowing the seeds. If sowing is not done, no harvest will be reaped. This is impossible because harvest can only grow from seed: there is no other way.
This also applies to spiritual work: we must sow, meaning spread the Gospel about what Jesus has done for us. This means that we must spread the Gospel to those outside of our congregation, to those who have not been saved. When these people are not apt to come into the church or the congregation or listen to any Gospel programs on the media, we should have a plan of how to reach them. We need to find a way to get the seed of the Scripture to them so that they can be reborn. This is what Bible says about this work:
- (1 Peter 1:23) Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and stays for ever.
- (2 Cor 9:6) But this I say, He which sows sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which sows bountifully shall reap also bountifully.
- (Rom 10:14,17) How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
One way of spreading the seed of the Scripture both in your own country and when doing missionary work can be spreading the Word in a printed form. People do not always see the value of doing this. However, the fact is that many have been saved after having read good spiritual literature. They have been reborn after having received the printed Word. Oswald J. Smith wrote about the usefulness of written Gospel decades ago when the modern media were not in common use. He stated that printed Word is a good and affordable tool to reach people, particularly when doing missionary work. We should systematically spread printed Word to people who have never heard about the Gospel. If we sow in this way, we can also expect to reap something. There is naturally no way of knowing where people will best receive the Gospel but if we continue to sow, “at the proper time we will reap a harvest” (Gal 6:9). We must start by sowing the seeds of Gospel.
The only way of implementing the great command of “go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” is doing it using printed word as a tool. If we are able to send a tract to each home, we can reach all the people living in that home. I know no other way to better results. There is no way we can ever send enough missionaries to all the parts of the world, but we can systematically spread the printed word. (...)
Therefore, when I returned to America, the country so favoured by God, I started to encourage all missions I could to send something to read to where it is needed. “Why do you spend so much time in English literature? Why do you keep pushing Bibles to people who do not want them? (...) Why don’t you use our assets in the spiritual favour of those far away? Why don’t you do something for those who have nothing?”
Thanks to God, they listened to me. My words hit home like never before. Various missions started to send literature to faraway countries. After that, I have seen hundreds of thousands of tracts and Gospel booklets sent to where they are really needed. (9)
1. Saavuttamattomat kansat (Praying Through the Window III: The Unreached Peoples), p. 12
2. George Verwer: Ulos mukavuusvyöhykkeeltä, Out of the Comfort Zone by OM, p. 129,130
3. K.P. Yohannan: Haaste, joka lähtee sydämestä (Revolution in World Missions), p. 116,118
4. John Wimber, Kevin Springer: Ihmeet ja merkit (Power Evangelism), p. 60
5. K.P. Yohannan: Haaste, joka lähtee sydämestä (Revolution in World Missions), p. 139
6. Oswald J. Smith: Työ jota Jumala siunaa, p. 110,111
7. Watchman Nee: Apostolinen lähetystyö (Concerning Our Missions), p. 169,170,204
8. Oswald J. Smith: Pelastuksen päivä (The Day of Salvation), p. 109
9. Oswald J. Smith: Pelastuksen päivä (The Day of Salvation), p. 55,57
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