Missions Misconceptions (Part 1 of 2)

By Mark Walker, Coordinator of the Learning Community Team

International missions. You might consider going, and then again, you might not.

If “we’ve got enough to do right around us,” as some have said, then why should we spend the energy and resources to go to a foreign place and spend so much money and learn a new language and culture? In fact, isn’t it a waste of resources to do so when there is such low-hanging fruit that is close by, where you already know the language and customs, and the Bible is already accessible?  That’s a good question.  A really good question.

It is true that all Christians are disciple-makers, or at least they should be.  This is the core of the Great Commission, given to all of us Christians (Matthew 28:18–20). Disciple making is absolutely essential to who we are.  But I can’t say that all disciple-makers are supposed to be missionaries. Missionaries are a subset of disciple-makers who make disciples in foreign places, particularly among people groups who do not have good and adequate communities of Jesus.

We have to come to grips with and always remember that we have a great need for missionaries to proclaim the gospel in places that do not have access to the gospel - until we are finished with this finishable task.

Missionary work is not easy. But sometimes we make missions look even more difficult for ourselves because of misconceptions about what missions is. When we fix our own misconceptions first, we may find ourselves much more fit for missions than we first thought.

Mind mistake number one – Missions and poverty go hand in hand.

It is this wrong thinking that missions always involves material poverty, or to put it another way, if an area is not impoverished, they do not need missionaries. This, in part, may explain why there are so few missionaries in the country with one of the largest unreached people groups in the world: Japan. Since there is no need for hunger-reduction or microfinance programs, then there must be no need for missionaries. Not so. There are a gracious plenty of unreached peoples who are not impoverished. But without the hope of Christ, they are profoundly hopeless.  And reaching them is what we are sufficiently called to.

Another reason for having this notion is that when anything is done in the name of Jesus and has something to do with relieving poverty, then missions has to be happening. But where man-made or natural disaster occurs, humanitarian organizations crowd there to help the affected. This has led the church to a practice of coining phrases that offer identity to the efforts.  So now we have “inner-city missions” and “short-term missions” and “domestic-missions.”

It’s possible that we can confuse ourselves with the idea that “missionary” can be assigned to everyone who shares the Gospel.  But missionary always by definition includes foreign cultures and lands, so by forming a mash-up of words like inner city, short term, and domestic with missions, well, it just doesn’t make sense, unless we now use missionary as a term of honor instead of leaving it to be practical.

Join us in a few days for part two when Mark will share the second and third mind mistakes that can be made concerning missions.

Click here for part 2.

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Mark Walker is the Pastor to the village and to the Vineyard in Beaufort, SC. Prepositioning and development specialist with 30 years in initiating and sustaining compassion and justice projects both nationally and in more than 30 countries abroad, and has been consultant to international NGOs and USAid groups. He has found himself to be comfortable in the uncomfortable areas and regions of conflict, to include Central America, Eastern Europe and Africa.  His heart is and has been to establish influential relationships with indigenous people groups, with the goal of promoting growth and health in all areas of life.  Mark brings extensive work in team and work-force development, sustainable initiatives to tie the local church to the life of global church.  He likes to say - “Compassion gets you there, the Church keeps you there.”  He’s “sweetie” to one, “Dad” to three and “Papa” to two.  27 broken bones, somewhere around 500 stitches, 54 countries and owns other numbers that give color to his 52 years.