What is mission work? It seems almost too elementary to ask such a question. But when we really look at it, the answer is not what we would expect to find. I think we would all agree that we want our definition of “mission work” to be a biblical one. So let’s consider the common understanding of this subject in light of its biblical origin and see if it stands the test.
We usually define missions as doing Christian work in a foreign country. This is the common understanding of the word in most Christian circles. According to this definition anyone who buys an international plane ticket and travels to a foreign land to do some sort of Christian outreach is involved in mission work. If we take an outreach team from Dallas to Indonesia, or a team to Mexico from San Diego, that also fits under the category of “missions.” We could also say that if someone from Canada moves to Africa, India or the United States of America to do Gospel work, they are involved in missionary outreach. This common definition is basically correct and all the examples we just mentioned deserve to be called mission work. But according to biblical standards it is too limited.
How far do we need to go geographically to be involved in mission work? If we live in San Diego, going to Tijuana Mexico is usually considered a mission trip, even though it is a very short distance. But taking the long journey to Louisiana is considered an outreach. Some might say this because by going to Mexico we are crossing an international border, whereas travelling to Louisiana doesn’t involve leaving the U.S.A. Or maybe we reason that the trip to Tijuana is a mission trip because we cross into a different culture. But it could be argued that a native Californian would certainly have a cultural experience while visiting the bayous of Louisiana! Others might defend the Tijuana trip as missions, and the Louisiana trip as an outreach, because of the fact that Spanish is spoken in Mexico. But the same thing could be said about San Diego!
The truth is that mission work has nothing to do with location at all. I suggest that anyone involved in Christian outreach anywhere, no matter where they are from, is involved in mission work. In other words, every pastor, bible study leader, outreach team member, or Sunday school teacher is participating in missions. A more biblical definition of mission work would be doing Christian work. We can safely leave out the second half of the common definition, in a foreign country. Mission work has nothing to do with our country of origin or the country in which we serve, but rather the work in which we are participating.
When we talk about missions we are really talking about the mission we have from the Lord. The mission is the task we have been given to accomplish. It is summed up well in what is usually called the Great Commission, found in Matthew 28:18-20. This is the biblical origin of Christian missions. That commission states that we are to preach the Gospel and make disciples in every nation of the world. Every nation includes not only foreign countries like India, Mexico, China and Zaire, but also the United States of America.
It might further help the reader to think of missions from the perspective of the first disciples. They were standing in Jerusalem when they were given the Great Commission. At that time they were told to be Christ’s witnesses in “Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” For those early disciples; Los Angeles, Dallas and New York City would each be under the category “end of the earth”! So as long as they were preaching the Gospel, making disciples by teaching them how to obey all the commands that Jesus had given them, organizing them into local churches and training leaders, they were fulfilling the mission they were given, regardless of where they were doing it. And all who are involved in that work now, wherever they are doing it, are still fulfilling that mission. That is to say, all believers who are involved in fulfilling the Great Commission are actively participating in missions, because they are actively working on completing the mission!
So is there a difference between an American preaching the Gospel in America, versus one preaching in Mexico? If we mean, is there a difference in the mission that is being fulfilled, or is one more God’s will than the other, the answer is a resounding NO! The Gospel is God’s Gospel, no matter to whom or in what place it is preached. That is not to say there are not differences to be taken into account. From a practical perspective there are more obstacles to be overcome when we preach the Gospel in foreign and faraway lands. We might have to learn a new language, adapt to new foods and customs, as well as live a long way from our friends, family and sending church. All of these sacrifices are commendable and worthy of honor. It is because we desire to honor these sacrifices that we often glorify foreign missions above domestic missions. But when we do this we must keep in mind that regardless what we call it, whether outreach, street evangelism, Bible study, Sunday school, or any number of other Christian labors, biblically speaking, we are doing mission work.
To read my personal testimony illustrating the truth that missions is everywhere, not just overseas, click here.