World evangelism: What is our primary motivation?

Mission Briefing: Ideas that shape world mission outreach today

How can we generate support for world evangelism?

What is the best way to generate support for world evangelism? How do we get people to burn with passion to pray, give, mobilize others, or even go themselves?

Would talking about the spiritual lostness of millions of people be powerful enough in and of itself to motivate people? Unfortunately, over time, people tune out the continual talking about almost any subject, including the tragedy of people dying without ever hearing the Gospel. Sometimes, believers even negatively push back against repeated pleas to get involved in reaching the unreached in faraway places.

Another way to motivate people is to offer them opportunities to respond to physical needs and social injustices around the world, including human trafficking, extreme poverty, malnutrition, voids in health care, and even the lack of educational opportunities. Sadly, appealing to physical and material needs often turns out to be somewhat like promoting a "flavor of the month." By that, I mean that missions passion sparked solely by physical needs runs hot or cold depending on how the particular need being promoted piques people's emotions.

So, if thinking about lost people and hearing about unmet basic human needs can both fall short as motivators, what about simply urging people to be obedient? After all, clear commands about world evangelism appear in Scripture with Jesus' Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 being the most well-known. Quite frankly, it is our duty to "make disciples in the nations." Unfortunately, missions passion built solely on a call to obey can diminish over time, and people wind up half-heartedly supporting world evangelism only because they know they are supposed to. Or worse, the plea for obedience to God may morph into a lament of look-how-much-I-am-doing- and-how-little-the-rest-of-you-are-doing.

Could it be that the most productive way to spark world missions passion is to get people's hearts passionately in tune with God's heart or at least seeking God's heart? God doesn't ask His people to proclaim the Good News far and wide simply to keep us occupied. Doesn't He do it because H loves every single person on earth? Sadly, one-third of the world's population has never even heard the name "Jesus."

People frequently profess to love God "with all our hearts." If a person is truly madly in love with God, shouldn't their passion for ends-f-the-earth evangelism line up with God's burning desire for it?

Henry Martyn, missionary to India and Persia, captured this concept when he wrote, "The spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions. The nearer we get to Him, the more intensely missionary we become."

To be sure, thinking about humanity's lost condition, hearing about staggering human needs, or being reminded that world evangelism is every Christian's duty may set some hearts on fire. Individually, however, each of those three beginning points will wind up being inadequate. Do we want to foster lasting world evangelism passion? If so, a call to get our hearts in tune with God's heart desire will likely be the most powerful and long-lasting foundation on which to make appeals for involvement in supporting ends-of-the-earth outreach.

Discussion questions

  1. What role does obedience play in motivating people to get involved in world evangelism, and how can we avoid it becoming a legalistic duty rather than a passionate calling?
  2. Is there a danger in using guilt or shame as a motivator for world evangelism, and if so, how can we inspire people to get involved without resorting to these tactics?
  3. What can churches and organizations do to create an environment where people's hearts are passionately in tune with God's desire for world evangelism?
  4. How can we generate long-lasting passion for world evangelism rather than relying on short-term emotional appeals based on current events or popular causes?

This mini-essay on a critical issue in world missions outreach is an article in the "Mission briefing" series published in Engage, a monthly online magazine produced by the Church of the Nazarene.

What breaks your heart?

A slogan about world evangelism to stir hearts and move people to action

"Let my heart be broken with the things that break God's heart" -- Bob Pierce, World Vision founder

A mini-essay in Engage magazine

I have Christian friends whose hearts get broken when things in the political arena do not turn out as they had hoped. I know believers whose hearts get broken over the ups and downs of their favorite sports teams. Some people's hearts get broken by the outcomes of television programs.

Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision, pleaded for us to allow our hearts to be broken by something far more important than all those things. Pierce pleaded with believers to have their hearts so in tune with God's heart that their hearts would be broken by those things that break God's heart.

What breaks God's heart? I do not think it is the outcome of a sporting event, or a television show, or even a particular election, or the direction the stock market is going. God's heart is broken by the fact that so many of His human creations are estranged from Him. For instance, He intimated to Jonah that the lost people in Nineveh broke his heart (Jonah 4:11). Remember also that Jesus wept over the waywardness of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41).

Bob Pierce was an American evangelist who, on a trip to Asia in the early 1950s, was overcome by the plight of homeless orphans he encountered. He decided to start an organization to do something about it. That organization was World Vision.

Thereafter, as Pierce promoted the ministry of World Vision, he shared his prayer, "Let my heart be broken with the things that break God's heart." Wouldn't that be a good prayer for us as well?

Discussion questions

  1. What are some things you think Bob Pierce had in mind when he said, "Let my heart be broken with the things that break God's heart"? How would you explain to someone what it means to have a heart in tune with God's heart?
  2. What things can Christians do to become more aware of the things that break God's heart and become more involved in addressing those issues?
  3. In what ways can Christians avoid becoming desensitized to the issues that break God's heart, and continue to have a heart that is sensitive to the needs of others?
  4. In what ways do you think that prayer can help individuals develop deeper empathy with those who are suffering? Will time spent in prayer motivate people to take action to help?
  5. How can Christians balance their concern for issues that break God's heart with their involvement in other things they are passionate about?

    -- Howard Culbertson,

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