What do missionaries do?

Mission Briefing

What do missionaries do? How do they go about fulfilling Christ's Great Commission? What are the key themes shaping world missions efforts today? What issues are being talked about by people involved in global missionary strategy and practice?

Check out these brief (500 words or less) articles or reflections on themes relevant to global missions. Those issues include focusing on the mission, proper motivation, unreached people groups, looking for receptive people, contextualization, developing indigenous churches, avoiding dependency, collaboration, sustainability, leadership development, the ministry of being a sender, culture shock, effects of globalization, cultural responses to wrong-doing, and recognizing spiritual forces. These articles were published as a series for a monthly column in Engage magazine, an online missions magazine of Nazarene Missions International

  1. Three selfs: Necessary qualities for local churches -- In the late 1800s missiologists Henry Venn and Rufus Anderson began talking about three characteristics a church-planting movement would have if it were truly indigenous: Self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating.
  2. The evils of dependency -- In world evangelism efforts, there can sometimes be too much foreign money given to specific ministries or projects. Financial dependency on foreign money can actually hurt rather than help a local ministry.
  3. Redemptive analogies-- Missionaries noticed a people group's peace-making practice was strangely similar to God's gift of His Son, and used this "redemptive analogy" to explain the gospel.
  4. Sodality: Strange word, important concept -- Historically, the Church has done its best ends-of-the-earth outreach when there were groups of people within it passionately devoted to the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
  5. "Where the Church is not yet" -- The term "unreached people groups" has been around for a while. Now, global mission strategists are talking about some of those unreached people groups being "unengaged people groups." While some unreached people groups have missionary organizations evangelizing among them, unengaged people groups currently have no evangelists or missionaries working in their midst.
  6. Contextualization -- When Christianity moves from one culture to another, there is a danger that it will be thought of as belonging in the first culture, but very much out of place in the second one. The solution to that is good contextualization.
  7. Infinitely reproducible -- Paul Orjala, pioneer Nazarene missionary to Haiti, urged future missionaries to use infinitely reproducible as one criterion for assessing patterns of evangelism and church planting. He felt the key to actually fulfilling the Great Commission was to use structures and modes of organizing and developing that could be reproduced over and over again. (More on Paul Orjala)
  8. Be a sender -- More global missionaries are needed. However, ten times or more as many supporters are needed to send and sustain them. Being a sender is just as important as being a go-er.
  9. Mission fit -- Missionaries must focus on ministry activities that "fit" their mission. On the local, district, regional, and global levels, we must be prayerfully asking: Is what we are doing and how we are doing it consistent with the objective of making Christlike disciples in the nations?
  10. Globalization -- sometimes defined as a flow of ideas, goods, images, and people across national borders -- is not a new phenomenon. It can be seen as early as the book of Genesis. God's people must find a way to share His love among the shifting tides of globalization today. Indeed, the church itself is an active agent in globalization.
  11. 10/40 Window explanation and map -- Luis Bush called attention to an area of the globe where there are large concentrations of unreached people groups. With just 10 percent of the current global Christian missionary force deployed to that area where many of the world's least-evangelized people groups live, we have much work to do.
  12. Excluded middle or expanded middle? -- Westerners often go to one of two extremes in dealing with evil spiritual forces. Either they exclude the possibility that such forces exist or they see them everywhere and in everything.
  13. Paternalism: Helping or hurting? -- Christians visiting churches in other countries too often assume, even unconsciously, the attitude of a kindly but overbearing parent.
  14. Culture Shock -- Missionaries and others living cross-culturally for extended periods of time experience a roller coaster of feelings of alienation, anxiety, disorientation, and uneasiness.
  15. Motivation -- Over time, many of us lose our urgency for God's mission to reach those who don't yet know Him. What can we do to stir the embers of our concern for the lost into a healthy fire?
  16. Missionary -- A plea to look at the word "missionary" in the light of Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4
  17. Cultural responses to wrongdoing -- Knowing how a culture responds to wrongdoing will enable the Church to more powerfully proclaim the Gospel to the people of that culture
  18. Comity or collaboration -- Do we have an "empire" mentality or do we work in a collaborative mode?
  19. Fostering sustainability -- Global missions outreach efforts need to be carried out with an eye toward long-term sustainability and viability.
  20. Leadership training -- Given that the people in churches are diverse, the ways in which leaders are trained need to be diverse and flexible

Several key concepts have shaped today's worldwide mission outreach efforts. Strides are being made toward fulfilling Christ's Great Commission to make disciples of all nations. To continue moving forward, we must rekindle the motivation of believers to be involved in obeying the Great Commission. The roles missionaires are expected to play must be based on biblical principles.

    -- Howard Culbertson,

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