While there are many creative ways to do missions there is clear and compelling biblical evidence to the work and goal of missions. Having considered what missions is by definition and what mission work looks like this series concludes with some take away thoughts from author Kevin DeYoung.
A Few Implications
Let me finish by suggesting a few implications which follow from this answer and then make one final observation from the text.
Implication #1: Those currently serving as missionaries should consider whether Paul’s priorities are their priorities. I’m not trying to single out any specific missionaries who may come across this post. But as a general diagnostic tool missionaries would be helped by considering whether their aims look like Luke’s summary of Paul’s aims at the end of Acts 14.
For some, this may be a gentle reminder and encouragement to stay the course and keep doing the good work they are doing. For other missionaries, it may mean a serious re-evaluation of their priorities. Perhaps they’ve wandered from their charge, maybe lost sight of their original aims and goals. Any of us can experience mission creep or mission drift. It happens in businesses. It happens in churches. It happens in schools. And it happens on the mission field. You have one set of purposes in mind when you land, and then years later you’ve veered off into something else entirely.
Implication #2: We should aim with our missions budget to support missionaries who have for their goals the things we see in Acts 14:21-23. There is certainly a place for Christians to support all manner of good works, development programs, and initiatives designed to work for human flourishing. Many of us will choose to support these ventures personally from our own finances. A few of them may even be in the church budget as a kind of diaconal ministry toward those in our community or for those in need around the world. But when it comes to supporting missionaries in the mission budget, we ought to expect that they are aiming for, praying for, and working for the same things that describe the mission of Paul and Barnabas in verses 21-23. The work of the sent-out apostles should bear a strong resemblance to the work of our sent-out missionaries.
We are finite creatures with finite time, finite resources, and finite abilities. Therefore, our mission strategy must have priorities. This means first of all, we want to support godly men and women, mature in their faith, and like-minded in their theological convictions.
Second, this ought to mean we look to support those doing work in the three areas of missionary activity we see in Acts—evangelism, discipleship, and church planting.
And third, once the first two points have been firmly established, I believe every church should keep two further questions in mind. Where is the greatest need? What are our greatest strengths? These two question won’t make all the hard decisions easy, but they give us a place to start making hard decisions.
Paul’s goal was to reach as many people as possible with the gospel. He made no distinction between men and women, slave and free, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, majority or minority. He wanted all to hear of Christ and was eager to go where Christ had not been named (Rom. 15:17-23). Considering almost three billion people have no access to the gospel and there are still 7000 unreached people groups, we should be especially burdened to send missionaries and support missionaries where Christ is least known.
And along with this priority of greatest need, I believe it’s wise to consider our greatest strengths. What abilities and interests do we have in our church? What do we have a track record of doing well? In what places do we already have strong ties? Where has God opened a door? Theses are the sort of secondary questions we would do well to ask, provided the fundamentals have been established.
Implication #3: You should consider whether God is calling you to be engaged in this work, should the church be willing to send you out. I know this post has been heavy on definition and precision and explanation, but perhaps you find your heart exploding with joy and purpose and resolve at thought of gospel-centered, gospel-saturated, gospel-purposed mission work. Maybe you are sitting at your computer thinking, “That’s exactly what I want to do with my life. I want to be report back to this church someday that through my witness God opened a door of faith to the nations.” There is a tremendous need, and we have a tremendous gospel. Could it be that God is calling you to be one of those who connects the two? Talk to your elders, talk to your missions committee, talk to your pastor, talk to a mature friend if you think you might be one of these missionaries we’ve been talking about.
A Final Word
I would be remiss if I didn’t direct your attention to the end of verse 22 in closing. We read there that Paul and Barnabas strengthened the souls of the disciples, encouraged them to continue in the faith, and also informed them that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. A key aspect in their discipleship plan was preparing the people to suffer. And who better to prepare them for Christian endurance than the Apostle Paul? Here we are at the end of just the first missionary journey and we’ve already seen Paul threatened, attacked, stoned, dragged out of the city, and left for dead. If the call to be a Christian is a summons to carry your cross, how much more the call to be a missionary?
In some ways, we have it easier today than Paul and Barnabas did. Travel is easier. Communication is easier. Medical care and hygiene are better. But in other ways, the work of a missionary is even harder. Most of today’s missionaries have a far great cultural gap to cross in their ministry than Paul did in his. Paul didn’t have to learn a new language. He traveled within the borders of the Roman Empire. He ministered among those who shared something of the same educational system and same political tradition, even if the religious history was very different at times. Sending an American to Indonesia or a Korean to Eastern Europe or a Brazilian to West Africa will likely mean greater cross-cultural pains than even Paul knew.
In the end, of course, it’s not terribly fruitful to compare missionary work in one century versus another. If we are faithfully proclaiming the gospel to those who do not know him, there will be challenges. There will always be the promise of tribulation and the possibility of even worse.
Which means we must be prepared to suffer if we go and be ready to support those whom we send. Missionaries are just like other Christians. They have marriages that need help and kids that need help and conflicts that need help. They are not super heroes. They are servants—servants of God, servants of others, and servants of the word.
It’s that last point that may need recurring emphasis in our day. Missionaries must be first and foremost people of the word. They must know it, believe it, announce it, and teach it. That’s why they go. That’s why we send. For how will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? (Rom. 10:14-15).