myths about missions

Most people understand ‘missions’ as the intentional evangelical efforts of an individual, organisation, or church who is purposed to spread the Gospel. Yet, there are many misconceptions, or myths surrounding missions. Here is (one) perspective on things we often miss.

Interestingly, the word “missionary” is never found in the Bible. In Scripture, the disciples were commissioned by Jesus and sent out as Apostles to the Nations. An Apostle, (from Greek apostolos, “person sent”), is tasked with the mission of preaching the Kingdom, and making disciples.

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:16-20

Evangelical Christians are committed to spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. It is our mandate. For two thousand years, Christians have imperfectly crossed cultures to bring this Good News, and today there are believers from more languages and peoples than ever before.

Yet as always, Satan lurks in the shadows, plotting against the Spirit’s work and lashing out “because he knows that his time is short” (Revelation 12:12). He has already lost, but his disinformation continues, and sometimes we get caught believing lies about God’s mission to all nations. It is hard work to sift through what the Spirit is really doing in the world: myths persist.

The way out is to shed light on some of the most common myths Christians today believe.

the chosen frozen

In Acts 4:13, we find evidence that the apostles were ordinary men. However, it was evident that they had been with Jesus. “The Call” is simple. What makes it complicated is our response to the calling.

Interpreting God’s calling on our lives is hard. When I first started out as a Believer, I kept a journal in which I wrote down all the things I’ve felt God speak to me about. So many of those things have come into fulfilment over the last 20 years, but wow — I’ve needed help to interpret God’s will and his call on my life. And you do too, regardless of your vocation. We were made to walk in relationship with God, and with other Believers. Being a Believer, or a missionary (Apostle, to use the Scriptural term), can be tough, and none of us should be left to figure it our on our own. Overland Missions has a popular saying that goes, “Never go alone.” It speaks of partnership with Holy Spirit, and with other Believers. There is such blessing and covering in partnership and covenant. The New Testament places a lot of emphasis on the fellowship of Believers, on the community of faith. When we’re isolated from other Believers, we can easily mistake our personal abilities and callings and head out believing we’re doing God’s work. Within community, there is shared wisdom, unity, and room to make mistakes and grow with a safety net of people who encourage you and keep you accountable in your walk with God.

Consider the church of Antioch, who sent Barnabas and Saul (a community/ church entrusting and sending out Apostles with a specific task), already proven leaders, and confirmed their apostolic call by laying hands on them (Acts 13:1–3). The church should send missionaries out “in a manner worthy of God” (3 John 6), which includes confirming our call and preparing us to go. Having great preparation and confirmation doesn’t mean everything will go smoothly, but it does set us up for success over the long term.

If you’re interested in getting equipped and trained, sign up for Overland Missions’ Advanced Mission training — it’s a comprehensive and intensive course that’ll prepare you for foreign missions.

Advanced Mission Training is Overland Mission’s three-month program to spiritually and practically equip people for the mission field.

good news only

Will people give to me or my organization if it seems we are ineffective? Expectations fuelled by snippets from the lives of missionaries have fed the temptation to think that missions reporting must always be positive. It’s the modern conundrum to instant gratification: Expectation vs Reality. The truth is, even though there are many victories that we celebrate as individuals, and as a global team, there are challenges too — flat tires and sleepless nights, tribal conflict and relational challenges.

“Thousands of people were saved,” “Hundreds of churches were planted,” — these are the things we typically celebrate in newsletters and End Of Year Reports, but as reporters from the field, being transparent in the face of challenge creates trust, and does not necessarily mean negative growth. Some of the best honest newsletters from Overland Missions’ team are by the Killoughs from Angola and the Pienaars from Zambia.

Transparency and an honest answer to “How are you?” also applies to those who support missionaries — sharing your peaks and valleys with those who partner with you in prayer, and who support you in your walk of faith, helps us to grow in covenant. We are better together.

Social media has created a false expectation that everything is always awesome. And it often it. But make it a focus, as an exercise, to live this week as you normally would and then turn it into a newsletter. Think about what you would emphasize and what you would leave out. That is pretty much how a missions update is compiled.

you’re doing it wrong

It’s so easy to be critical from a distance rather than supportive in proximity. People often ask me what I do in day-to-day ministry. The truth is — I never have the same day twice. In the physical world, and often in the spiritual world too, there are no presets of manuals for what we do — the heart of Overland Missions is to pioneer the Gospel to unreached people in remote locations. That means to till hardened soil in order to sow seeds of faith, and for every nation, every people group, and every culture, that process of tilling and sowing and tending may look different.

If you want to know what day-to-day missions looks like — join us on the field, or sign up for an Expedition here — we’ll take you to the Nations.

Of course, we should hold up the Bible as the lens to understand how people are approaching the mission, and we should not shy away from trying to bring reformation to mission practices. But before we do, let’s consider Paul, who rejoiced simply because “Christ is proclaimed,” despite poor motives (Philippians 1:18). Let’s consider how much we know about places far away, and then tread carefully as we push back.

super spiritual stigma

When we talk about heroes of faith, we often refer to people like David Livingstone, John G Lake, Elizabeth Eliot, Stella Cox, and William Wilberforce — ordinary Believers who have responded to “Who shall I send, who shall go for Us?”

Every Spirit-filled believer is equipped to do whatever it takes to share the Good news of the Kingdom. Missionaries aren’t super spiritual simply because they serve on a foreign field. Every problem that occurs in your local church also occurs on the mission field.

Being equipped and skilled in your work, no matter your vocation, is always a credit, but God isn’t looking for those who have the highest qualifications or the most “know how” — what weighs far more is your ability to sign up and show up. To be teachable, serviceable, available — these are the things that contribute to longevity in ministry.

So, yes — if you feel led to up-skill by doing a Bible school or Advanced Missions Training, do it. But do not let it hold you back from simply doing life, living in obedience, and doing small things with great passion. As you go, preach the Kingdom.

go the distance

Have you even gone fishing? Instinctively we want to cast as far as possible, believing that the bigger, better fish must be further out.

Some think this is what foreign missions means. There is a false belief that there is a greater harvest the further you travel from your home country. The truth is that many people are unreached because they are remotely located. They are hard to get to because these tribes are isolated, and rough terrain has to be crossed to get to them. And while Overland Missions pioneers the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the most remote people and tribes in the most forgotten places on earth, it does not mean that where you are right now — in your home town, in your current vocation, and in your home church, there isn’t a mission field to be harvested.

Overland Missions’ strategy

step 1: reconnaissance

Pioneer remote areas in order to identify villages with limited or no Gospel presence. 

step 2: expeditions

Evangelize unreached villages spearheading long term ministry.

step 3: sector management

Disciple new believers and identify potential indigenous leadership while also identifying felt-needs and bringing humanitarian aid.

step 4: indigenous leadership

Train indigenous leaders to reach surrounding villages with the support of expeditions.

homecoming

Missionaries “come home” for furloughs or forever. We can imagine that missionaries will love the chance to visit family, partners, and old friends again. But for many, home assignments can be stressful.

Imagine that you have a young family and have been gone for five years. (The same can be true for unmarried people on the mission field.) You have just made friends and adjusted to the culture, and you/your kids are in routine-ish (because, let’s be honest — life on the mission field rarely sticks to the program). And then you pull out for six to twelve months in order to live on the road.

The problem can feel more acute, however, when missionaries return permanently (for whatever reason). They commonly hear, “Aren’t you glad to be home?” and the answer is rarely a resounding “Yes!”

Of course, there is a lot to love about being closer to family, but there are more significant reasons why it is hard. Some missionaries find themselves facing reverse culture shock, unable to navigate the culture they grew up in. Friends and family have changed in the time they have been gone. Kids are not happy to leave their friends “back home.” Relationships don’t make sense, and work doesn’t feel as meaningful.

A friend who used to be a missionary in Uganda once said to me, “In Uganda I was in charge of multimillion dollar projects and led many people to Christ, but now that I am back in the U.S., I have to ask permission whether I can put napkins on the table at a men’s prayer breakfast.” Returning is often painful, disorienting, and numbing.

missions without myths

We have been given a mandate that cannot be ignored. We are to send or go. But we also are to be aware of how myths shape our worship and practice. Our attitudes can be misinformed. Our actions can be immature.

Exposing these myths is not intended to put a damper on a passion for the nations, or quench a desire to go out for the sake of the name, or cause you to be hesitant to obey Jesus. It’s about seeing the world as it is in order to better serve God’s global people that he is calling to himself.

I am often asked how I navigate life between my assignment and my home country, and the best way for me to tell you is to show you!

So, if you’d like to go, let’s get in touch! cornelia@overlandmissions.com

4 thoughts on “myths about missions

  1. Thank you for the update. Having served overseas before, so much you wrote about applied to us and how we communicated with people. May you be blessed by Him!!

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    1. Thank you for your feedback, Jeff. Where were you based? And, I assume you’re home now? I would love to know more about your life and experience as a foreign missionary.

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      1. Were based in Bangladesh and have been home a little over 5 and 1/2 years. Miss it terribly, but know that it was His leading bringing us back to the States.

        Always seemed we were judged by successes, on the field and by those who gave. It was always easier to send those updates when things were going great, not so much when we were struggling. I finally stated it is not about success, but about obedience and seemed to help some. Hope your day continues to go well. You can follow me on Facebook at Jeff Epley.

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        1. Thanks, I will be sure to connect on FB! I think it’s a very real thing that people who support missionaries financially, however Kingdom minded they are, still want to see a return on investment. Obviously, as we steward such resources, we try to go about it with wisdom and discernment, but growth (and evidence of what it is that we ‘do’ all day) is not always linear. However, I have found that most people are eager to sow into vision for the Kingdom, and not just things. If you give towards people and not things, and give in obedience, then you’ll never feel like you’re on the losing end of the deal.

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