“Remember to pack my medicine, torch and knife,” shouted the new missionary to his wife. Finally, the big suitcase is ready. They hug each other as the new missionary leaves for a foreign land. With tears in the eyes of both, the missionary says, “Farewell, my dear wife. We may never meet again. There are diseases, lions and serpents where I am going.” Neighbours look at him, some with pity and others with admiration and off goes the new missionary to his mission field. This is the view of missionary work that dominates the minds of many. But how should we understand missions? The Bible should influence our understanding of missions.

What is Missions?

The Webster dictionary defines a “missionary” as one who is sent to do missions. Putting it in a religious sense a missionary is sent out to accomplish a religious task. Whereas some view missions exclusively as evangelism concentrated on verbal proclamation, many realise that God is at work in everything in the world. Christians were encouraged to immerse themselves in the daily affairs of the world. They see missions as demonstrating the character of God in all human endeavours. The goal is to renew society and everything around us.

The Bible gives us the right view of missions. Stott tells us, “All of us should be able to agree that missions arises primarily out of the nature, not of the Church, but of God himself. The living God of the Bible is a sending God” (Stott, p.21). Christ’s command was, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). So, missions is about going into the world of sinners. Christ told his disciples that as the Father sent him so was he sending them. He left his glory to deal with the misery of sinners. We should arm ourselves with the same thought. Missions is about preaching the gospel—in words and actions.

Matthew’s version is, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt. 28:19,20). So, missions involves making people take a bold stand for Christ and ensure that they live to obey him. Luke also tells us that “… repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in His name to all nations…” (Luke 24:47). Hence, missions aims at changing the thinking and behaviour of people and fosters a good relationship with God. In the book of the Acts we read, ‘But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth’ (Acts 1:8). So, missions is about being ambassadors for Christ in this perishing world.

The New Dictionary of Theology concludes, “Missions conveys the biblical idea of being sent, classically expressed in Jesus’ saying, ‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you’” (John 20:21), (NDT, p.435). You cannot send yourself into the world. God sends his people into the world. He sends people who have come to him and they bear his glory. He sends you that you may declare his glory.

The Aim of Missions

Mission work is not simply a tiring and discouraging work, which leads nowhere. It has a specific purpose. Firstly, the primary purpose of missions in Scripture is the glory of God. The Old Testament pays special attention to the honour of the God of Israel. The heathen should not think that the God of Israel was powerless to save his people (Num. 14:16). The nations must know that the Lord alone is the most high (Ps. 83:18). You seldom find compassion for the lost as the motive for missions, but you find a passionate desire that God’s glory be revealed. His name shall endure forever and people will be blessed in him. The Lord seeks to magnify himself in his greatness and holiness so that he may be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that he is the Lord (Ezekiel 38:23).

Secondly, we notice that missions in the New Testament is about the kingdom of God. His is the kingdom, the power and the glory. God should reign in the hearts of men and in the whole universe. The emphasis is that Christ has all the authority in heaven and earth. Missions is about the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:9, 10, 12). God shall subdue all things that he may be all in all (1 Cor 15:24, 25, 28). Piper puts it well when he says, ‘Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship does not. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man’ (Perspectives, p.49).

Following the glory of God, we have the planting and extension of the church. Christ intimated that he would build the church (Matt. 16:18). The church is the dwelling place of God here on earth. Though you can see his glory everywhere, he manifests his greater glory in the church. The world can only see God reigning in the world when he establishes his church and the church exhibits his character.

The conversion of heathens is the third aim for doing missions. Sinners must abandon their ways and surrender to Christ. Christ delivers them from the powers of darkness and translates them into the kingdom of light. Christ demonstrates his saving power through the conversion of sinners. He plunders the house of the strong man and sets his captives free. He breaks every barrier of hostility.

Why do Missions?

We must do missions because it is the work of God and God is at work. God calls us to be co-workers with him. His call is the honour that he gives to the redeemed. Missions is necessary because God does not permit men to go their own way. He now demands repentance (Acts 14:16). Christ has equipped the Church with grace and many gifts so that they may do the work of missions. You waste the resources of Christ once you fail to do the work of missions. Christ gave us gifts for the whole purpose of advancing His kingdom. Missions is possible because God in Christ is reconciling men to himself.

Missions is the work of the Holy Spirit. He calls men into the kingdom of God. All who have the Spirit of God will go out to seek the lost. Bavinck quotes Gustav Warneck, saying that he “… admits that in the abstract, missions should be an activity of the church, but in the concrete situation in which we live, it is his contention missions should be conducted by an inner circle, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit” (Bavinck, p.58). The Holy Spirit compels people to do missions. So, we will be witnesses of Christ because he has given us his Spirit.

Christ commands his disciples to go out and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19, 20). Disobeying any command of Christ is to live in sin. We sin if we do not engage in any form of missions work. A church that neglects missions, sins openly. The love of Christ compels us to do missions work. He gave his life for us and we must live for him. Christ will punish all disobedience. You will lose your rewards if you only pay lip service to missions.

Anyone who cares for the glory of God must do his work. Missions glorifies God and this is the main reason why we do it. We worship God as we go to make disciples of all nations.  

Who should do Missions?

Some time ago, many thought that missions could best be done, not by the church, but through societies. Others taught that you needed an inner circle within the church to do this work. Some were of the view that you could only do missions in partnership with the state. Bavinck points out, “In the last decades, however, throughout the whole world, people have come more and more to the conclusion that it is indeed the church itself which is called to perform missionary work. There are no other institutions that can take over this responsibility” (p.59).

Christ has given the task of missions to the local church. The church as a whole does not baptise, but only the local church. The task of missions is on the shoulders of the local church. The local church must be the fountain of Christ’s love to invite lost sinners to Christ. The local churches must work together and consult one another, but all mission workers must give account to a local church and not another organisation. The church calls sinners, and all who heed this invitation must join the local church, and not any other organisation. Individuals or organisations can do mission work, but they must be church-based.

Diaconal work plays a major role in missions. The diaconate should do acts of mercy to enhance missions. God raises deacons in the church to do acts of mercy so that missions work should not suffer. Peters tells us about the unique task of the church, “Because the church is God’s unique creation and not the result of a historical and natural process, and because she is God’s unique possession through Jesus Christ, it is to be expected that she has been designed for a unique purpose and mission” (p.208). 

The Results of Missions

All the four Gospels conclude with a version of the Great Commission, where Christ is showing his disciples that he has left them with one aim; namely, to “make disciples…baptising them… and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

The book of Acts shows us that the apostles and the early church implemented this in the energy of the Holy Spirit. In this way, like them, we will be able to see the Holy Spirit reproducing spiritual life in those to whom we are sent. Though the Great Commission is not emphasised in the Acts or the epistles, the apostles clearly implemented it. They preached the gospel to all nations, made and baptised disciples, and taught the new converts what the Lord had taught them. This meant that the new converts were added to their numbers. This means that missions involves what today we term as “church planting”, with new converts accepted into the fellowship of a local church and then being taken on the path of discipleship.

In this way, missions will end up with the gospel reaching the ends of the earth. The whole world has not received the gospel yet, but with missions, the whole world will hear the good news. When God equips his church with power, the gospel spreads. Many tribulations will come to the church but we will be more than conquerors through Christ Jesus, who gives us strength. The troubles will only be there to make us strong. The people of God will come to the fullness of the true beauty of holiness. Christ will present his bride to himself as a radiant church without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (Eph. 5:27). Many people will call upon the name of the Lord. Christ will not come until he gathers all his elect.

Missions prepares for Christ’s return. All who long for the coming of our Lord, must speed up His coming by spreading the gospel until it reaches the ends of the earth. Let us therefore unite in prayer so that the gospel touches the lives of many. Missions cultivates a heart of prayer so that people can call upon God with sincere hearts. When the people of God pray, God will heal their land. You will find it difficult to pray for missions if you have abandoned your duty. Those who labour at converting the heathen will certainly pray.

The missions enterprise originated in the mind of God. God is at the forefront, leading his people that they may possess the land. Christ goes before his army to capture his captives until he reigns over all. The militant church follows in the footsteps of the Master, consumed with the glory of God. Both the Old and New Testaments show that God is concerned about the glory of his name (Ex. 33:17–23; Isa. 40:5; Ezek. 1:26, 28; Rom. 16:27; 1 Cor. 10:31; Gal. 1:5; etc). This is the pattern that all missionary endeavours should follow. The supreme goal must be to bring glory to the triune God.

Christ shall reign wherever the sun does shine and the Church raises the banner of missions. ‘Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, looking unto Jesus who is gone before.’ The Master has walked this way and the church should follow. Amen!


Bavinck, J. H. An Introduction to the Science of Missions. New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1960.

Ferguson, Wright and Packer. New Dictionary of Theology. Leicester: Inter Varsity Press, 1988.

Kirk, Andrew J. What is Mission? Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000.

Peters, W. George. Biblical Theology of Missions. Chicago: Moody Press, 1972.

Piper, John. Let the Nations Be Glad. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993.

Stott, R. W. Christian Mission in the Modern World. Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1975.

Winter and Hawthorne. Perspectives on the World Christian Movements. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1981.