Challenges and Objections to Missions

Article by Daniel Topf, PhD

It’s great to be passionate and excited about missions. Aspiring missionaries are often motivated by reaching people with the saving message of the gospel, obeying Jesus’s final words to his followers to make disciples of all nations, and participating in the glorious plan God has for this world. At the same time, people might also have reservations when it comes to getting involved in global missions today. It is important to address some of these concerns so that those considering missionary service as a vocation can develop the necessary strength and conviction to move forward. In the following, I list four common challenges and objections to missions while also suggesting a possible response.

What about raising support?

Many people interested in missions would love to serve on a foreign mission field, but they are concerned about what this might mean for them in terms of finances. The classical model for financial viability in long-term missions is to raise support in one’s home country and to then move overseas once the necessary means have been secured. However, asking people and churches for financial support can seem awkward and intimidating, especially in a culture that values self-sufficiency. For this and other reasons, World Team prefers to speak of Partnership Development. The idea behind this term is that senders and goers enter into a strategic partnership for the sake of the gospel. This partnership includes finances, but also support in prayer and practical matters.1

Entire cultures have been transformed by the gospel, and many nations made progress in areas like literacy, women’s rights, and healthcare thanks to the dedicated and sacrificial missionary service performed over many decades.

Typically, the process of Partnership Development takes around two years. Besides raising support, there are alternative models for working in a cross-cultural setting. One possibility is the area of marketplace ministry, where missionaries find gainful employment in another country. Business as Mission (BAM) is also an approach that has attracted considerable attention in recent years. While these are attractive options, it must be emphasized that it is not easy to be financially successful when doing business overseas and finding a job that pays enough to make a living can be challenging. These approaches (marketplace ministry and BAM) will likely take at least two years of careful preparation. When comparing these options and considering all the implications, going the traditional route of raising support may still be the best way forward for a large number of people interested in missions.

But I am not a church planter!

Another concern when thinking about joining a missions agency like World Team may be that planting reproducing churches can seem like a high bar. Even people who are passionate about evangelism and discipleship may not necessarily see themselves as church planters. This is why World Team likes to emphasize that all of our workers are primarily disciple-makers. Making disciples is what Jesus commanded us to do in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19), and it is a very relational task that each of us can get involved in. Plus, on the mission field, this task will take place in the context of a church-planting team, where each member contributes their unique giftings, skills, and personality traits. Working together, over time, these concerted efforts lead to the planting of churches. Having healthy churches that can continue the work of reaching people will always be the goal.

Isn’t missions a colonial enterprise?

There certainly have been abuses in missions in the past, and those stories must be told. Using political, military, or economic power to advance the gospel is not only immoral but also contradicts the way God works, following the all-important principle: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6, ESV). However, it is crucial to remember that many missionaries – both past and present – have made immense sacrifices in order to serve God. Even when missionaries worked within the context of colonialism, it does not mean that their lives were easy. On the contrary, the living conditions were often so challenging that many of them died while serving on the field. Africa, in particular, was known as the “graveyard of missionaries” because so many workers died from devastating diseases, often within just months of their arrival.2

Overall, the positive impact of missions has been remarkable. Many missionaries stood up for the rights of local populations and deeply honored their culture. They even translated the Bible into the local language.3 Entire cultures have been transformed by the gospel, and many nations made progress in areas like literacy, women’s rights, and healthcare thanks to the dedicated and sacrificial missionary service performed over many decades.4 Much work remains to be done, and as we head into doing missions in the twenty-first century, we should always look for ways to serve people more effectively and more lovingly. In fact, making disciples of all nations is the most loving thing we can do for the nations. We all fall short of the glory of God and make mistakes sometimes, but this should never discourage us from doing what Jesus instructed us to do when he gave us the Great Commission.

There’s so much work to do right here in the US!

Even if someone is fully funded and feels competent to do cross-cultural work, they could still have doubts regarding working overseas among unreached people groups. They may feel tempted to stay because there are so many needs in their own country. The influence of Christianity in American society has certainly diminished in the past few decades. But there are still many strong and growing churches in the US, and overall, the country is 28.9% evangelical (according to Operation World).5 This is a very different situation from secularized Europe, for instance, where the population of countries like France and Spain is only 1% evangelical.6

In the Islamic world, the situation is even more dramatic: Yemen, a country of over 36 million people, has 0% evangelicals, and the situation is similar in Turkey, which is a nation of over 86 million people.7 Granted, we live in an age of migration, and missions in the twenty-first century is now truly from all nations to all nations. There are wonderful opportunities to reach out to Muslims in different settings, including here in the US, where World Team has a vibrant and growing ministry called the INN (International Neighborhood Network).8 However, getting involved in diaspora ministry should not be seen as a replacement for overseas ministry – we need both. God’s desire and plan is for Jesus to be worshiped among all peoples and in all regions of the world. Therefore, reaching the ends of the earth with the gospel continues to be a priority. After all, the Hebrew prophets envisioned a time in which the whole earth (not just certain geographical areas) “will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14; cf. Isa. 11:9).

Endnotes / Suggestions for Further Reading