I arrived on the mission field three months after I graduated from seminary. The Lord had saved me in my mid-twenties and called me to missions shortly afterward. My wife and I embraced that call and went to seminary to prepare for the field. We were appointed as missionaries as soon as I graduated, and when we moved to the field we went with two small children and eager hearts, but very little else. We had virtually no awareness of what a missionary actually does in everyday work. Seminary had given me a general overview of the history and theology of missions, along with some basic knowledge of strategies and methodologies, but on arrival in our country of service the advice of older missionaries sometimes drastically conflicted with what I had learned.
What was even more concerning was that developing world events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, the proliferation of the internet and a burgeoning Latin American liberation theology were changing the rules of the game, if not the entire playing field. I realized early on the importance for missionaries to maintain awareness of world developments. I also realized that sweeping world changes could easily carry away those who are enamored with them unless they stay anchored to the Word of God.
How could I possibly know how to sort out wise guidance from my missions education, counsel from godly missionaries who had served faithfully in my new country, and still factor in all the changes around me along with those just about to happen? How can you?
The Future of Missions
While the world changes daily and many global developments are influencing the way the world acts, interacts and reacts, the gospel is the truth once-for-all delivered to the saints. The question at hand is how missionaries can move with the times and embrace the modern realities and innovations while remaining faithful to God’s Word.
Multinational corporations highly value the information yielded from well-researched trends and use it to be proactive in product development, marketing and investment strategies. Missionaries and missions agencies must anticipate and prepare for world change just as diligently.
Unfortunately, far too often the missions enterprise is more reactive than proactive.
What place does the future have in informing the ways we do missions? Do you consider the weather forecast when making plans for a fishing trip or a picnic, or would you check forecasts of job markets for employment possibilities when choosing a college major? Many people anticipate and begin planning for their children’s college education even when they are still young. Those of us seeking to impact nations for Christ should consider the trends that lead multinational corporations and the world’s governments to adjust, redirect and refocus their efforts to influence nations for the coming decades.
Often, hardworking and faithful missionaries are so engaged in their work that they fail to see what is going on in the world or what is coming down the road. It has often been said that the faithful pastor should conduct his ministry with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Imagine the pastors who continue to minister and preach as they did thirty years ago, with no change in the music or leadership of their churches, or any awareness of either world events or local changes. While God’s Word never changes, the world ever changes.
To minister effectively, missionaries must engage the world that is, not the world that was.
Engaging the World That Is
Jesus told his church that we are to go and make disciples of all people groups, baptize them and teach them everything he has commanded. Each of the four Gospels and the book of Acts has some version of the Great Commission.
The last command of Christ should be the first priority of his followers. To make disciples, we must engage the world as it is and preach the gospel.
Engaging the world as it is means adjusting as it changes, not allowing our methods to become fossilized. When we are fossilized in ways of the past, trying to reach and teach people as we imagine them to be, wish them to be or as they once were, we miss the opportunities God gives.
Business and financial analysts, along with government foreign policy experts, constantly watch the world with their finger on its pulse to monitor developments and trends—actual and potential. Some businesses and governments hire consultants to advise adjustments so they can meet challenges and continue past success. Becoming so enamored with the way we used to do it, or wishing the world were still as it once was in some golden era, inevitably results in being left behind.
While it is important for global businesses and governments to be advised and aware of coming changes and challenges, it is eternally and infinitely more important for missionaries and the church of Jesus Christ to be prepared for the future, meet it head-on and engage it with effective strategies and methods.
Only by anticipating the future, studying trends and considering the missiological implications will we be able to maximize missions efforts for success while advancing the kingdom and bringing glory to Christ.
Editor’s note: This excerpt is adapted from Changing World, Unchanging Mission (IVP, 2015).