Recently, as I was walking out of a church after worship, I instinctively visited the missions display. Having spent many years in crosscultural ministry, I was curious to view the scope of the church’s ministry, the nature of its works, and the missionaries with whom it partners. This church particularly encouraged me because it presented its world missions involvement not in some out-of-the-way corner but in a place of high visibility. It serves as a constant reminder to all who enter that this is a church that sends out . . . to world missions.
Something else caught my eye on that table: several different literature pieces featuring coordinated titles declaring, “This is missions . . .” Some presented opportunities for business as missions, others for teaching English, still others for disaster response and medical ministry. Clearly, the intended point behind the creative title is the truth that the Lord uses believers from every walk of life to serve in missions. But the title statement also raises a deeper question that flows from the original: What is missions?
With missions being conceptualized in so many different ways in the church, one thing becomes clear: we need to guard against defining missions so loosely that it becomes meaningless. As one missionary and scholar famously declared, “If everything is mission, nothing is mission.” What, then, is world missions? Though imperfect, I propose my synthesized definition as a starting point:
Missions is the plan and act of God for redeeming and making disciples from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation by sending His people to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, to show them the gracious, redeeming love of a glorious God, and to organize them into biblical, worshiping churches.
A right understanding of world missions holds several key concepts.
First, God is the architect and builder of missions. He has covenantally planned missions from eternity past and, in His sovereign timing, is bringing missions to completion (Eph. 1:4–5; 2 Tim. 1:8–10). Therefore, our missions ministries should reflect His revealed missions plan.