Desiring to be a missionary is aspiring to a noble cause. We are told in Matthew 28:19-20 to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” That seems like a good reason to leave your home, go abroad and share the Good News. There are also countless other verses that encourage believers to leave their home and go somewhere else to share the Gospel.
But what I have found recently is that while aspiring to be a missionary is a noble cause, many people are not really going for the right reasons. Yes God can use even our bad motives for His eternal purposes. But if we set out to be a missionary in a foreign land for the wrong reasons, we can cause ourselves and the people we are trying to reach with the Gospel a lot of trouble.
So today I want to look at 5 bad reasons to be a missionary. Again, God can and does use our bad motivations for His Greater purposes, (I once heard a missionary who first became a missionary chasing a girl. He ended up marrying the girl and both are doing long term work together now), but in general these 5 reasons typically don’t work as a motivator to keep a missionary going during the hard times.
First, because you want to impress other Christians, your family or a girl/boy. I often hear of people who have decided to go into mission work because they are trying to prove themselves. Maybe their family doesn’t really believe in their faith so they want to prove how strong they believe by becoming a missionary. Maybe their Church friends don’t think they are all that spiritual, so becoming a missionary will show them. Or maybe there is a cute boy or girl also interested in mission work. Getting on the same team as them will guarantee some quality time together.
Galatians 1:10 tells us “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Going abroad to serve as a missionary in order to impress or please others just won’t work. It may get you on the plane but when times get hard, (and they always do at some point for missionaries), this motivation isn’t strong enough to keep you going. Only if our desire is to please and honor God will we be able to keep at it when things are hard.
Second, because you are very interested in another culture. I’ve met a lot of people who go abroad to do mission work not really because they feel called to that country, but rather because they are very interested in the culture, language or food there. While this may be a good enough reason to travel to a country, it isn’t a good enough reason to do mission work there. Remember that the world cultures aren’t out ultimate goal,but rather God’s Kingdom. 1 John 2:15-17 says “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”
People who are so enamored with the culture tend to spend all their time learning about cultural things but not really engaging the culture for Christ. To desire to understand the language and culture in which you are attempting to spread the Gospel is a good thing. But if your main desire is to experience, enjoy and learn more about the culture, you will see that your fruitfulness and ability to be useful as a missionary will be quite limited.
Third, because you have nothing else to do. There are a lot of young people, just graduated who can’t seem to find that dream job. So instead of just sitting around some dead end job, they decide that going abroad to be a missionary would be a good time killer, look good on the resume and be a good excuse to do some traveling. The issue with these type of people is that they are only doing mission work as an escape from their boring life back home. This will not give you a passion to spread the Gospel and it will certainly not continue to motivate you when you tire of the excitement of being in a new culture, (this excitement usually wears off after 3-6 months but is different for each individual).
Fourth, because you loved all those short term mission trips. Don’t get me wrong, short term mission trips are great and are a great way for people to test the waters before jumping into something more long term. But, if your only motivating factor to be a long term missionary is because being a short term mission tripper was so awesome, you will find your long term trip cut short with you begging to return home.
Short term trips are a much easier experience because they run on the excitement and “spiritual high” of doing a lot of mission work in a short time. For the long term missionary, this excitement quickly fades and the reality that you are in for tough work ahead sets in. For those chasing the missionary excitement, long term mission work is more like a war of attrition, and thus is very different than short term trips.
Fifth, because that’s what real, super Christians do. This is a lie that makes people feel like if they want to move up from JV Christian to Varsity Christian then they better go abroad. The truth is that your neighborhood, school, workplace and even family and friends probably need as much Gospel shared with them as people from other parts of the world. Missionaries are not super Christians, they are just regular people who have followed God’s call on their life. So for you to stay at home and actively reach those around you is just as God honoring as those who have left their country to serve. Notice in Acts 1:8 that Jesus gives 4 locations starting closer and growing to further away. Jesus did not command us all to go to the ends of the earth because then there would be no one to share in Jerusalem, (your city), and Judea, (your state). Follow God’s call on your life whether that takes you across the world or just across the street.
My hope and prayer is that we can all be missionaries whether we move across the world or still live on the street we grew up on. What makes a true missionary is not the location but rather the heart to see God honored and His Gospel spread. If you feel called to stay home, then stay home and share the Word. If you feel called abroad, then go and share the Word. Just always check your heart and reasons before you go or stay that you may be fruitful and used well wherever God places you.