William Carey is usually called the father of modern missions. Carey was a late 18th century British pastor, and in those days, missionaries didn’t go out from the Western church to reach the lost in other countries. Carey wanted to change that, so he helped start a missionary sending organization and pursued moving overseas himself. But for some reason, Carey met fierce opposition within the church. When Carey proposed the idea of starting a missions movement, he met this reply from the senior minister in charge, “Young man, sit down; when God is pleased to convert the heathen world, He will do it without your help or mine.”
A lot has changed over the past two hundred years, but people are still telling those interested in missions that they are not needed or wanted on the mission field. A common view today is that it is more helpful to earn a lot of money and send it overseas to local evangelists, pastors and ministries. And while earning a lot money to invest in missions is a wonderful work and the God-given calling of some, the idea that there is no longer a need for missionaries to go overseas is absolutely false.
The desperation of the lost and unreached cannot be overstated, but what is the best way to reach people with the gospel? In reality there is a tremendous need for 3 types of people to bring the gospel to unreached areas: Indigenous Gospel Workers, Senders, and Goers.
Indigenous Gospel Workers, Senders, and Goers
Indigenous Gospel Workers - spread the gospel in their own areas. They know their own language and culture, and they are usually inexpensive to support. Without Indigenous Gospel Workers, a gospel movement will never take root or spread in a local community.
Senders - pray and donate towards missions and mobilize other believers for missions. Without Senders, the mission will fail due to a shortage of prayer, funds, and awareness of missions to unreached peoples.
Goers - move away from their homes to advance the gospel in an unfamiliar place. They are far more expensive than Indigenous Gospel Workers, and they usually struggle to learn the local language and culture. Their learning curves are very steep, and they make a lot of mistakes. So what is the advantage of sending out or becoming Goers? Why don’t we all just earn a lot of money and send it to indigenous pastors and evangelists?
There are several reasons why missionaries are still in high demand.
Reason # 1. The Outsider’s Advantage
Areas that are unreached have been unreached for thousands of years, so the status quo is fiercely opposed to the gospel. But outsiders have a special opportunity to shake things up and be a catalyst for deep change. This is what Jesus did. He came from heaven to earth, so he never really fit in as he walked this planet. But he shook the earth to its foundations with strange, new ideas and methods. Outsiders have a similar opportunity to shake things up in unreached areas today.
Outsiders also offer unique perspectives to situations. Insiders have been living in unreached areas for generations, so many things that are potentially harmful to the spread of the gospel in an area seem normal to them. Insiders might not have even considered that there are different ways of doing things. Outsiders offer a fresh perspective that, when partnered with the local expertise of insiders, can bring a new wave of ministry to an area.
Reason # 2. The Need for Cultural Bridges
God has blessed the American church with an enormous abundance of resources that can be used to advance the gospel in unreached places. An average, middle-class American earns enough money each month to provide for the needs of his or her own family and pay the salary of 10 pastors or feed 30 families three times a day. American money goes a long way in developing countries.
But American money can also do a lot of harm. Unless donations are handled with great cultural wisdom, they will not accomplish their intended purposes. The money will be stolen by a corrupt accountant or a pastor who is really good at faking sincerity. Or the money will be used for poor people in ways that actually take dignity away from them and encourage laziness, corruption, addiction, etc.
For donations to be used effectively in foreign cultures, a cultural bridge is needed. There needs to be someone who understands American culture and the foreign culture on a very deep level. This person builds close relationships of great trust with people in the foreign culture and facilitates healthy partnerships and relationships between people separated by an enormous cultural gap. These things can only happen if a missionary moves to an unreached place and lives among the people there.
The way that people from different cultures think about things like accountability, integrity, results, etc. is incredibly different. So there will always be a need for cultural bridges to maximize partnerships for the advancement of the gospel.
Reason # 3. Multiplication through Training
Usually, the entire life goal of a missionary should not be to start 1 church or to start 1 orphanage. The goal is to multiply our efforts, to train workers who will train workers who will train workers, and so on. However, this usually takes a long time. The missionary must learn the local culture to understand how a multiplicational gospel movement could start. The missionary must become an expert in the local culture for whatever they are seeking to multiply, whether it is churches or orphanages or anything else. This also takes time and a lot of hard work, but the effect is enormous.
Every person is called to a different life and work. God calls many to follow him without moving to a new culture. But there are great needs and opportunities in areas all over the world that are unreached with the gospel, and until Jesus returns, God will continuously call some Christians to move away from home to reach the unreached.
So if God is calling you to be an overseas missionary, don’t let anyone convince you that the unreached people of the world don’t need you. They do. Don’t let anyone convince you that you can’t make an enormous positive impact as a missionary. You can. Let’s go for it.