What Is Missionary Work?
What is missionary work?
That’s a fair question, especially if you believe God may be pointing you in that direction. While it’s great for you to consider a life of missionary service, you need to know what you’re getting into—and what your options might be.
To start uncovering an answer to any question, it can be helpful to go back to the basics. And for the question What is missionary work?, the basics are found in the Gospels and in the book of Acts.
The History of Missionary Work
During His time on earth, Jesus gathered a group of followers for a three-year intensive in ministry education. That education included opportunities to take the message of His kingdom to surrounding cities (Mark 6:7-13). Those early efforts had positive results, even if His disciples were often a step or two behind what Jesus was trying to teach them.
Then, just before He went back to heaven, Jesus provided the marching orders for His people until He returned. Their job was to make other disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) and to take the gospel to ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Over time, early believers like Philip (Acts 8:26-40) and Peter (Acts 10) stepped outside their comfort zones and shared the gospel with folks who might have been considered outsiders.
Christian missionary work took a huge step forward when the church at Antioch felt the Holy Spirit leading them to commission Saul (later known as Paul) and Barnabas to extend the reach of the gospel across the Roman Empire (Acts 13:2-3). In fact, the rest of Acts narrates Paul’s missionary journeys as he literally took the message of Jesus to Rome, the boundary of the civilized world at the time.
Mission Work Today
For Paul and those early Christians, the question of What is missionary work. Involved some serious thought and prayer. The leaders in Antioch even spent time fasting before they were sure they’d heard the Spirit correctly. They took missionary work seriously—and so should we.
Today, missionary work might look different than in the first century. But we can still identify some common denominators to help us understand and embrace what missionary work is. Here are five basic elements you can think through as you consider the question What is missionary work? means to your life.
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Missionary work involves sharing the gospel.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but it really is important to understand. You cannot know what missionary work is all about apart from the gospel: the good news that Jesus lived a perfect life, died for our sins, and rose again to offer eternal life in Him. A lot of humanitarian organizations do some great things at home and abroad; but unless their primary goal is to share the gospel, they’re not really doing missionary work.
Missionary work can be domestic or international.
You might naturally think of a believer who travels to another country to be the hands and feet of Jesus. And, in a sense, you’d be right. A lot of Christian missions do focus on international work.
But you don’t always need a passport to do missionary work. Many missionaries minister right here at home. God knows that the needs in our nation are just as powerful as the struggles of individuals across an ocean. So, in His grace, He also calls missionaries to work for Him in domestic contexts.
Missionary work can be a career or a short-term endeavor.
Just like location, missionary work can also vary in duration. Some believers find their answer to missionary work in moving their families overseas. While they may serve as a pastor, doctor, or teacher, they truly are career missionaries.
On the other hand, other believers find great joy in taking regular short-term mission trips. They serve for weeks or maybe months instead of years. They may travel to same region on every trip or visit many nations over time. Whatever the specifics of their experiences, God uses these short-term missionaries to make a big difference for His kingdom.
Missionary work can involve traditional ministry or marketplace ministry.
When Paul went from one town to the next, he had a plan. He shared Jesus in the Jewish synagogues on the Sabbath and shared Jesus is public spaces during the week (Acts 17:16-18). Along the way, he preached and planted churches all over the Empire. That’s traditional missions work—believers preach, lead Bible studies, plant churches, and do personal evangelism where God plants them. It’s a tried and true method that God continues to bless today.
But other missionaries minister in the “marketplace.” They aren’t necessarily preachers or church planters. They serve as teachers, medical professionals, pilots, relief workers, business leaders, or in any number of “secular” jobs. They use their skills in a particular career field to build relationships and earn a hearing for the gospel.
Missionary work can be in the field or in support.
You probably understand how being in the field could teach all you need to know about missionary work. But you may not realize that behind every missionary—whether domestic or international, career or short-term, traditional or marketplace—stands a support system that breathes life into their work. It could be a prayer network back home, partners from a mission sending agency, or a list of financial backers; but those individuals working behind the scenes are doing missionary work that is just as critical as what the actual missionary does on the field.
Something to Think About in Missions
Of course, these five elements are just the beginning of your quest to figure out what missionary work could look like in your life. You also need to spend time in prayer, asking God to give you wisdom and direction. And you need to make sure you have these three issues settled:
1. You must have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. You cannot lead people down a path you have never walked yourself.
2. You need a clear calling from God. This includes an internal sense that God is setting you apart for missions, along with the external affirmation of leaders you trust and the church you attend.
3. You need a plan for training and education. Christian universities, sending organizations, and missions programs can help you in this area; but you need to do all you can to prepare for what God has for you.
Missionaries are disciples who lead others to become disciples. They are called by God to fulfill the Great Commission in a unique way. And if God is calling you to move in that direction, He will equip and empower you to make it happen.
You might not have all the answers right now. But, in time, He will let you know how the question What is missionary work? finds its resolution in your life.