How many Christians have resisted the call of missions work because they couldn’t see past the cultural stereotypes of what a missionary is and does? Likewise, how many Christians have served as missionaries for years without even realizing that they were doing missionary work?
The stories of David Livingstone, Jim Elliot, and others like them loom large in Christian history. For better or worse, they have helped shape Christian thought about mission work. As a result, many people believe that missionaries necessarily live in a distant place and minister to people whose language and customs are foreign to them.
Certainly there are many missionaries who fit that description. However, the vast majority of mission work takes place much closer to home. Jesus Himself makes that clear. His final recorded words to His disciples, delivered just before He ascended to heaven, contain a strong local flavor.
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). He starts the trajectory of the disciples’ future ministry in Jerusalem, a place they were very familiar with. Their ministry ultimately would reach the four corners of the earth, but it also would meet the needs of the people closest to them.
In Matthew 22:34–40, a lawyer tries to test Jesus by asking, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus replies, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
You can’t get much more local than your neighbors. Jesus elevates local ministry to a place of supreme importance. He suggests that it’s inextricably tied to loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind.
The New Testament writers expand on His message. The apostle John writes, “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). Local ministry is the Christian faith in action. It’s been said that no one cares what you know until they know that you care. That’s the essence of John’s words—as well as the essence of local ministry. When we sacrifice our time, energy, and resources to minister to the people around us, we speak volumes about the Lord we serve.
The apostle Peter ties local ministry to our spiritual gifts. “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10). God didn’t create in us certain talents and abilities just to give us a spiritual identity. Instead, He has equipped us so that we can minister to others in service to Him. That ministry starts with the people nearest to us.
The apostle Paul points out that local ministry is exactly what we’re made for. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). God created us as we are—and placed us where we are—for a reason. The good works that we do in our community, the ones God has prepared us for, make a difference.
The words of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah give us a sense of the impact our local ministry can have: “If you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday” (Isaiah 58:10). For people who are struggling in darkness, that light can be life-changing because it means that someone sees them, someone recognizes their need, and someone cares enough to help them.
Isaiah’s fellow Old Testament prophet Micah summarizes the responsibilities of God’s people this way: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). We “do justly” by carrying out God’s good, righteous justice in our communities and ensuring that no one is overlooked or cast aside. We “love mercy” by sharing the compassion Christ has shown to us with all people, especially those who can do nothing for us. We “walk humbly” by humbling our wills to that of Christ so that He may freely use us to minister to the needs of those around us.
We fulfill the mandate of Micah 6:8 when we commit to missions work—on another continent or in our own backyard. When we pull back the layers of cultural stereotypes, we find that missionaries look very much like local volunteers, valued community members, and helpful neighbors.
Mission work was on Jesus’ mind as He bid farewell to His disciples. Mission work was the apostle Paul’s overwhelming passion and the only thing that kept him conflicted about the prospect of going to heaven as soon as possible. Mission work built the church as we know it today and helped Christianity survive the persecution of the Roman Empire.
The thread of mission work runs throughout Scripture. You can find prominent examples of it in the following passages.
“Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me’” (Isaiah 6:8).
Mission work, at its core, is an opportunity. Specifically, it’s an opportunity for believers to play key roles in God’s plan. Mission work is a front-row seat to God’s life-changing power. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah certainly recognized the potential in being sent by God. His excited reply reveals his eagerness.
Isaiah also likely recognized the challenges and hardships of mission work. He knew that his message—that is, the message God gave him to deliver—would not be popular. He also likely knew of the human tendency to want to “kill the messenger.” Yet Isaiah was not deterred, because the one thing he understood better than anything else is that the blessings of serving God through mission work far outweigh the drawbacks.
The voice of the Lord calls to His people in a similar way today. The Holy Spirit makes us aware of opportunities to serve. Sometimes those opportunities are local; sometimes they’re anything but. Either way, He asks, on behalf of the heavenly Father, “Whom shall I send?” Those of us who have the courage, faith, and sense of adventure to say, “Here am I! Send me!” will discover what it means to be used by God in a powerful way.
“And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned’” (Mark 16:15–16).
Jesus lays out for His followers the dire situation facing the unsaved. Their eternal lives hang in the balance. Believers who engage in mission work, then, may be compared to spiritual “first responders.” We run toward the crisis when others turn away or try to ignore it. We may not always be comfortable in the situations we face, but we refuse to back away from them.
A willingness to serve is the only thing the Lord requires of us. He doesn’t expect us to be experts in mission work, Christian ministry, or theology. The Holy Spirit will help us diagnose people’s spiritual needs so that we can figure out the best way to respond to them. If we “go into all the world”—or even into just our corner of it—He will go with us.
“How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14).
The apostle Paul underscores the dilemma that many lost people face. They are unable to make an informed decision about Jesus because they know so little about Him. Many are unfamiliar with Scripture. What they do know about Jesus comes from second-hand sources, which are often tainted by cynicism, self-interest, and misinformation. Some people, who have been burned by Christian hypocrisy (or worse), put up defense mechanisms to protect themselves from further harm.
Still, the need remains. To paraphrase Paul’s second question, “How shall they believe in Him of whom they have heard misleading things?” That brings us to his third question. The word that tends to trip us up there is “preacher.” Few of us think of ourselves as preachers. Yet, from the context of the verse, it’s clear that Paul is simply referring to someone who is willing to talk to others about Jesus.
Our “talk” can take many different forms. The manner in which we live—the priorities we set, the way we treat others, the joy we express, the fellowship we enjoy with other believers, the concern we demonstrate for people in need—can speak volumes about the Lord we serve. And when people grow curious enough to question us about the way we live, we have the opportunity to follow the apostle Peter’s lead and “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks [us] a reason for the hope that is in [us]” (1 Peter 3:15). That’s how we can be involved in mission work anytime and anywhere.
What is our true identity in Christ? A significant portion of the New Testament is devoted to answering that question. In order to fully embrace our identity, we need to understand the extraordinary privileges and responsibilities associated with it. These seven key passages offer clear insight.
Receiving Jesus as Lord changes our relationship status with God. We become His children. He welcomes us into His presence as all loving parents welcome their children. He delights in us. He knows what’s ultimately best for us and steers us toward it. Knowing that we can approach Him as a child approaches his or her father gives us peace of mind, confidence, and hope.
The fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—grows in our lives as apples grow on the branches of an apple tree. As appendages of the tree (or “vine”), we’re nourished by something greater than ourselves. Jesus’ work within us produces qualities and characteristics that draw people to us—and to Him.
One of God’s most precious gifts to His children is His Holy Spirit. As the Apostle Paul explains it, when we choose to follow Christ, our bodies become temples in which the Holy Spirit dwells. From within, He performs His vital work of guiding us, convicting us of sin, helping us understand and apply God’s Word, and communicating our prayers to our Heavenly Father. We have the opportunity to bring glory to God in the way we care for our bodies—or temples. By taking care of ourselves, we glorify Him.
Every follower of Christ is a part of His body. Together we accomplish His work in the world. Individually, each member of Christ’s body plays a key role in its effectiveness. If one body part fails to do its job, the entire body suffers. Our identity in Christ gives us extra incentive to complete the work He’s given us, using the talents and abilities He’s given us.
When we assume our identity in Christ, we don’t become improved versions of our old selves. We become something else entirely: a new creation. That means we’re no longer tied to the mistakes of our past. We no longer have to carry the guilt and shame of past offenses. We’re no longer slaves to old desires and habits. In God’s eyes, we’re pure and spotless.
Our identity in Christ results from our being all-in. We no longer have the freedom to take back the reins when it suits us. Our lives are His—not for better or worse, but for better and best.
As members of God’s family, we’re understandably (and rightfully) held to a higher standard in the way we interact with others. We have an opportunity to give others a glimpse of Christ’s mercy, patience, and kindness. If we humbly point to Christ as the One who makes those qualities possible in our lives, we may help others find their own identity in Him.
Come and see.
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