Many things have been said about missions, some of what has been said was good and helpful but some others brought confusion and were very unhelpful. Many good people failed when they tried to define and explain missions. The misconceptions don’t stop only on the terminology.
When the word mission, missions and missionaries are mention in our churches there are at least 4 different thinking groups in our local communities:
The first group thinks that missions are everything that we do in our church and communities. This group think that everything is mission and mission is everything we do.
The second group holds their wallets when missions are mention, because unfortunately in many local churches that is all that is shared or required from them. People that did a couple of mission services throughout the year and generally brought a cross-cultural missionary that many times only shared their sufferings and trials with the lack of financial support and struggles with culture and food, and in many cases all the miracles shared was always about the financial area of the missionary’s family.
The third group understand missions as the exciting part of the church, something that happens in a very far and terrible pagan land, and that missionaries are almost like a Christian version of the “Indiana Jones”, that is always out there doing something that no one knows exactly what or how, but that on the end of the day they save lives and show up to share all the excitement with the “rest” of Christianity.
The fourth group is the people from the churches that think that missions were a big deal on the past, but that today is for crazy people and weak or crazy ministers, and that the important thing before thinking in go somewhere else is to reach everyone in our streets and city. Many also think that missionaries are like a second class of ministers, good and electric Christians that are serious, but that could not quite reach the standard of a minister to become a Presbyter or Reverend in an established church, so as a second class or option they go to take care of small churches and small groups around the world.
The reality is that missions and missionaries are not any of the misconceptions above. Remember that God had one son and made him a missionary, because “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.
Another common misunderstanding is the fact that mission and missions are put on the same bag for the majority of people in our churches. Some people even consider that missions are when we do more than one mission trip.
You might be asking now why it is so important to know the meaning of the words on this case, and I would say that it is important because if we don’t understand the difference between the two, we might not know why we need to do what we do.
So if there are so many misconceptions about mission and missions, how can mission and missions be defined in a proper way? Let’s see some good definition that will work as a base for the present work:
There are many definitions about mission, follow the most accepted in the world of missiology.
In his book Transforming Mission, David J. Bosch makes a point that mission is mainly connected to the missio Dei (God’s Mission), and on this way, Mission comes from the very nature of God.
Bosch points that: “The classical doctrine on the ‘missio dei’ as God the Father sending the Son, and God the Father and the Son sending the Spirit was expanded to include yet another “movement”: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit sending the church into the world”.
Kirsteenn Kim shares the understanding that "missio dei" encourages a more dynamic understanding of God as outgoing and missionary. In this way, we serve a God that is mission and we are the goal of His mission and once reached the Sending God uses His people to continue the outreach of His mission.
I personally like a statement on missions by the World Council of Churches that says:
The mission of God (missio Dei) is the source of and the basis for the mission of the church, the body of Christ. Through Christ in the Holy Spirit, God indwells the church, empowering and energizing its members. This mission becomes for Christians an urgent inner compulsion, even a powerful test and criterion for authentic life in Christ, rooted in the profound demands of Christ’s love, to invite others to share in the fullness of Life Jesus came to bring (John 10:10). Participating in God’s mission, therefore, should be natural for all Christians and all churches, not only for particular individuals or specialized groups. The Holy Spirit transforms Christians into the living, courageous and bold witnesses (cf. Acts 1:8).
So Mission is strictly connected to the missio dei, and on this sense mission is something that was born in God’s heart and as an expression of His heart and loving will towards His creation. We are targets of His love and mission, and after we are reached we start to pulse and echo His love and care to the entire world. This is exactly what the bible says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.
The important point that is needed here is that the bible mentions that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, but after we receive Christ into our lives we also become sons and daughter of God! The bible says that “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God”.
So after we received Jesus into our lives He is not the one and only son, but from one and only begotten He becomes the first-born of God, and with Him, we become sons and daughter of the living God.
After that God doesn’t stop his mission and love to reach and save the world, so know He commission all his sons and daughter with Jesus to go and spread the message of salvation to the world, in a way that John 3.16 on this context could be interpreted in the following way: For God so loved the world that he continues to give his sons and daughters, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Understanding the assumption above, mission is always connected and fruit from God, on this way we are not allowed and shouldn’t have any other mission from our own as well as our local communities of faith should not have any mission of their own. We should all be an expression of God’s mission (missio dei) and on this way express his love and reach the world. So if anyone or any church has a mission, that should not only be fruit and result of a meeting and planning but should come as a result of many hours of prayer and meditation in God, asking Him to give his will and strategic way to reach our local areas and the world.
Only in this way our local churches and we as individuals will be victorious on the task to evangelize people and nations, from our streets and churches to the end of the world. Andrew Kirk explains that on the following way:
“To clarify the nature of mission is to answer the question, what is the church for? It is entirely for the purposes for which God called it into being. It has no liberty, therefore, to invent its own agenda. It is a community in response to the missio Dei, bearing witness to God’s activity in the world by its communication of the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed”.
Another important point to make at this point is that what many people describe as their mission (individual Christian or local church) would be in fact their missionary activities of evangelization and missions.
That missionary activities of evangelization and mission would have the starting point in God’s will and would be an expression of God’s love to every person in the world.
I already mention that ‘mission’ is not when someone does more than one mission trip. A good and concise definition of missions is the definition made by Patrick Johnstone, and he describes missions as “any activity in which Christians are involved for world evangelization ”.
I already explained on the topic above that missions are the work of the Christian church through individuals and the local church, expressing the missio dei on a pragmatic way. Translating the love and mission of God in a way that the world understands, receives and become part of the community of people that are called by the name of the Lord.
So missions are any activity that an individual and or an institution are involved with the intention to spread the gospel message of salvation to the world, not being restricted to where or to whom or even when. Every expression of church and every activity that ever happened throughout history is part of the history of missions because was an expression of the church (individual or institution) to spread the gospel through word or deeds or both throughout the world.
After describing mission and missions, now is time to unpack a little bit the term missionary and how that relates to mission and missions.
To start with is necessary to understand that not everyone is a missionary; like many good pastors and Christian leaders say. Not everyone is a missionary because not everyone is called to be a missionary.
Everybody is called to spread the good news of the Gospel! In this way, it is possible to understand that everyone is called to evangelize.
To be a missionary is not just necessary to understand missions, or to study the missio dei. In the same way that not everyone is called to be a preacher, but some may preach sometimes. Not everyone is called to be on the worship team, and if you ever listen me singing you would agree with that, however, I may sing when my wife asks even if I am not called to be on the worship group in our local church (or anyone else’s church to be honest).
A Christian may go on a mission trip or do missions with their church, but that alone doesn’t make the person a missionary.
John piper also disagrees with the idea that everybody is a missionary; he also points that if everybody is doing missions and being a missionary, so probably missions would be lost. He agrees that everyone is called to evangelize and he defines evangelism as “speaking to anyone anywhere the gospel. You don’t have to succeed at it. Evangelism is happening even if somebody is not getting saved”. Now ‘missions’ (to be a missionary) is something more and he points that missions are doing evangelism with a focus, programmed and intentional way in a cross-cultural context.
So missionary is the Christian that decides, or is called, to go cross-culturally to someone or somewhere or to some people to evangelize. Will be shared on the chapter about worldview and incarnational ministry that to go cross-culturally is not necessary to go to missions overseas, but many times to go to our neighbours is already to go to a cross-cultural environment.
My family is from a city called Curitiba in Brazil, but they moved to a city on the same state called Mandaguari (400km from Curitiba), and that city on the same state of the same country and with the same language had a very different culture and accent and way of life from Curitiba. For a minister or missionary to succeed in that environment they would need to adapt, otherwise, the message could be lost because of the messenger.
One day I was praying in my room in our house in the city of Curitiba – Brazil. Was one day of the begging of the winter, one of those days that you really feel God’s presence with you, when all of sudden I heard God asking me: “Luiz where would you go for me?”
My natural answer was “Lord I would die for you!” and I even said more “Lord I would not think twice before I surrender my life for the advance of your Kingdom”.
On that moment I have to confess that I was expecting something on the lines of God saying how faithful I was, or that He would do some wonderful thing in my life as a result of my great faithfulness to Him and His work, but instead of that I could feel God saying something slightly different to me.
God spoke to my heart saying: “Not Luiz, you would not!” and before I could think in a good excuse He continued to speak to my heart “You haven’t gone even to Peru for me, so I am sure you wouldn’t die”.
At that time my friend Julio from Chulucanas – Peru, was inviting me to go and share the gospel on that city.
At the same time, my wife and I had saved some money to change our car that was very old.
When Julio called the last time I said to Him: “Julio just send me the ticket that I will go to you!” and I thought that I was a good missionary because I was open to go in mission and do a mission for the Glory of God.
So going back to my conversation with God!
When God spoke to my heart that I haven’t gone even to Peru for him, I immediately defended myself: “Lord I was ready to go, but they have never sent the tickets, I am waiting”. And on that moment God spoke the hardest truth to me, he said: “Luiz you haven’t even prayed for it? You say that they didn’t send the ticket, but you had money in your account and not even prayed if I wanted you to go with your money or in another way, you just didn’t go because you didn’t have the tickets”.
I continued my defence: “But Lord that was our money to change the car…” and the Lord replied once more: “That is the problem Luiz, your things are always first, your money to your car, you not even prayed about it”. And then he said, “Luiz don’t make a business of me, don’t go just when the pay off is right, go because is my will and will provide even when it costs all that you apparently have with you”.
That was the hardest message that I ever heard from God! But when I left the room I went to my pastor and after five minutes of conversation, we bought the ticket to Peru.
Through that visit to Peru, many things happened. Was decided that two missionaries would be sent from Brazil to work in Peru, many other mission trips from me and other people from Brazil happened, and even a national gathering of discipleship between the church in Brazil and the church of Peru happened in Lima - Peru. All that happened because I finally understood the mission of God, and the result was the activities that followed enabling and equipping the people of God to continue to push His Kingdom, to make his will done on earth as it is in heaven.
And in a personal level, I have learned that I would never do a mission trip or any other kind of mission activity that doesn’t cost me anything! In every mission trip that I made since there, God has always provided part of it through a local church or some other way, but I always want to contribute with part or almost all in many cases, and that not with arrogance but with a grateful heart. It is a privilege to be part and to be an expression of His mission.
The point with the story above is that missions is God’s love and the salvific act of Jesus on the cross for the people of Peru, and part of that expression finally found a fertile heart in my life (after a long learning curve it is true), and every mission activity and everything else that happen because of that first mission trip to Peru was and it is missions or mission activity on that place.
And many histories like that happen all around the world, always with the same background. It is the love of God and the will of God to save and reach people all around the globe, and when He finds an open heart and a willing person to do his will, then the mission of God happens through that person or individual expressing itself in missions to save people.
Would you like to see God doing an amazing story though you? If yes open your heart and mind to his love and mission, and many missions will happen to His glory. People will be blessed and reached in a local area, your job placement and to the ends of the earth.
Recommendation for further reading about the content of this chapter:
David J. Bosch. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, 20th Anniversary Ed (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2011)
Kirsteen Kim. Joining in with the Spirit: Connecting World Church and Local Mission (London: SCM, 2012)
J. Andrew Kirk. What is mission? Theological Explorations (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1999)
Gailyn Van Rheenen. Missions: Biblical Foundations & Contemporary Strategies (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan1996)
World Council of churches. You Are the Light of the world: Statements on Mission by the World Council of Churches, 1980-2005 (Geneva: WCC, 2005)
 A phrase from David Livingstone.
 John 3.16
 D. J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2011), p. 399.
 K. Kim, Joining in with the Spirit: Connecting World Church and Local Mission (London: SCM, 2012), p. 28.
 World Council of churches, Commission for World Mission and Evangelism, ‘Mission and Evangelism in Unity Today’ (2000), para. I3. Published in Jacques Matthey (ed.), ‘You are the light of the World’: Statements on Mission by the World Council of Churches 1980 – 2005 (Geneva: WCC Publications, 2005), p. 62-68.
 John 3.16
 John 1.12-13
 J. A. Kirk, What is mission? Theological Explorations (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1999), p. 31.
 P. Johnstone, The Church is Bigger than you think: The unfinished work of world evangelization (Fearn: Christian Focus, 1998), p. 12.