Key missiological concepts illustrated by the lives of missionaries

What can we learn from the missionaries of the past?

Doing Missions Well: Examples from Missionary History

Published in Engage, an online missions magazine

How did missionaries help spread Christianity?

What do Britishers Mary Slesor and William Carey have in common with an Italian named Francis of Assisi, a Canadian named Susan Fitkin, and an American named Steve Saint? Well, what each one did during the years of service given to the cause of world evangelism can be used to highlight important concepts in missiology.

These are examples of missionary heroes. That doesn't mean they had arrived at absolute perfection. It does mean they were used by God in extraordinary ways and can serve as models for us. These are examples of missionaries who helped spread Christianity with how they lived and how they treated those to whom they went to minister.

Do you need sermon illustrations on missions? Use some of these stories!

  1. Mary Slessor and "identification" -- It was said of this red-headed British lady who went in the 1800s to what is now Nigeria that she was "more African than the Africans."
  2. Boniface and power encounters -- When he escaped unscathed from cutting down a sacred oak tree in what is now Germany, Boniface demonstrated that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is more powerful than any other spiritual force.
  3. Paul Orjala and "indigenization" -- By empowering Haitians to lead churches and other ministries in Haiti, Paul Orjala set the course for a vibrant and fruitful church-planting movement.
  4. William Carey's holistic ministry -- By insisting that our mandate is that of ministering to the whole person, Carey followed the example of Jesus' ministry.
  5. Francis of Assisi and ministering incarnationally -- At a time when those who called themselves Christian were sending armies to wipe out the "infidels," Francis went to see a Muslim leader and talked of the life and message of Jesus Christ.
  6. Foresight: Harmon and Lula Schmelzenbach -- Harmon's vision of what could be in southern Africa went far beyond what he himself was actually doing.
  7. Gladys Aylward: Example of humility -- Rejected by a mission board, Gladys Aylward went to Asia anyway and found work to support herself so she could fulfill her missionary call.
  8. Dedication: Ansgar (or Anskar) -- In thirty years of ministry in Scandinavia, Ansgar saw no evidence of lasting fruit. Still, he felt that was where God had called him, so he ministered faithfully.
  9. Missions mobilization: Susan Norris Fitkin -- Though illness kept her from being a "go-er" as a foreign missionary, Susan Fitkin poured her energy into being a senser and mobilizer who promoted world evangelism, raised money, drummed up enthusiasm, and painted a vision.
  10. Empowerment: Steve Saint -- Steve Saint insisted that the Waorani who took his father's life in an Ecuadorian jungle and then later became Christians must determine their own future as a tribal people rather than simply being recipients of whatever foreigners decide to do for them.
  11. Strategic Action: William Cameron Townsend -- Townsend's realization that not having the Bible in a people group's mother tongue sorely limited evangelismand discipleship among that group.
  12. Pioneering: Earl and Gladys Mosteller -- Missionaries are not duplicate copies of each other. Earl and Betty Mosteller had the gift of pioneering new works.

    -- Howard Culbertson,

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