“Millions are Dying Without Christ”: Thinking Through a Popular But Insufficient Reason to Move Overseas
As a pastor, I talk a lot with Christians who are overcome with emotion at the vast lostness in the world. “This is why we need to go, pastor,” one of them might say. “Millions are dying without Christ, so I need to become a missionary!”
How should I respond to this?
There’s much to love about this impulse. First and foremost, what this sweet saint is saying is heart-crushingly true. Men, women, and children are dying—their lives are ending and their eternities are beginning. And those who don’t know Christ are utterly without hope and lost forever. They will forever and personally bear the righteous wrath of God against their sin. This ought to cause our hearts to swell with impassioned compassion.
And yet, I try to remind my Christian friend that this fact by itself isn’t a sufficient motivation for someone to enter cross-cultural ministry. For at least two reasons.
The Bible’s Motivation
First, this fact by itself is insufficient because it’s not the Bible’s only motivation for missions. Because of this, caring about lostness cannot on its own fuel a biblical ministry among the nations.
A fuller picture of the Bible reveals more motivations for local churches to assess, prepare, affirm, and send church members overseas for the spread of the gospel. For example:
- Christians minister cross-culturally because God’s glory demands it (Isa 66:18–19). The nations disagree that God is righteous and good. As a result, they stand condemned unless they repent. God’s people love him so they take their stand as witnesses against the nations and testify that God alone is worthy of our joy-filled worship (Psa 92:13–15).
- Christians minister cross-culturally because Christ is Lord of all the nations (Matt 28:18). We proclaim Christ’s authority over all the nations. He alone is the rightful ruler. We spread the aroma of Christ everywhere we go because we love him.
- Christians minister cross-culturally because God is merciful (Rom 2:4). He is kind to the ungrateful and the sinner. And so, spurred on by our love for him, we share the gospel with others.
- Christians minister cross-culturally to fulfill Scripture (Luke 24:45-48; Acts 1:8). The proclamation of Christ to all nations was foretold in the Bible. We love his Word and obey him in our love.
- Christians minister cross-culturally because of God’s love (1 John 4:16). He loves His people. Unlike ours, God’s heart is never misaligned with his actions. He never stops loving—especially when he commands how we should live, where we should go, and what we should proclaim. He lovingly commands us to make disciples of all nations. He loves the nations so much that he sends witnesses to tell them of the salvation his great Son has accomplished.
- Christians minister cross-culturally because we love the nations (1 John 1:3–4). We seek to love the nations as God does by proclaiming Christ and lovingly inviting them into fellowship with us.
These biblical motivations should lead our local churches to pray together, to give sacrificially, and to send our very best members so that dying nations hear about the reign of our beloved Christ. As individual Christians, these biblical motivations should cause us to study His Word with ever-increasing zeal.
So much of what we find in His Word is corporate guidance—which leads us to our second point.
Second, lostness is an insufficient reason by itself for you to enter cross-cultural ministry because you should be assessed, prepared, affirmed, and sent by your local church. Again, I affirm the spirit of compassion for the nations. However, even grounded with robust, multi-faceted, biblical motivations for cross-cultural ministry, you still may be personally unprepared.
When I served in a large missions sending agency, one-third of all missionary applicants were formally delayed in their process because of discipleship reasons—even though they had come to us upon the commendation of their church. As we interviewed missionary applicants, time after time we discovered that they were extremely excited about sharing Christ with Muslims and felt confident about their ability to disciple new believers in the faith, even though many had never read the Bible all the way through.
God prepares missionaries through their local church. And one thing our churches must do is to teach its members about the church. This is especially true before taking the gospel to the unevangelized. Most Christians understand the church like they understand a car—as a driver or a passenger. But cross-cultural ministers need to understand the church like an auto mechanic. We need to be able to put a church together and diagnose the health of all the systems. Our churches can help with this.
Our church should also help us determine other gaps in our discipline, character, and doctrine, and then equip us to fill those gaps within the loving context of our spiritual family.
A friend of mine once told his pastor he wanted to go to seminary. And his pastor gave him quite a surprising response: you should wait a year. “I think you’re not quite ready,” his pastor explained. My friend listened to his pastor and today he’s thankful for it. Our fellow church members and our pastors (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5:5) can provide us with the gift of affirmation as we prepare for ministry.
It’s good and right to feel compassion about the lostness around the world. But that by itself doesn’t qualify you for service. If a church was founded today among unevangelized people with all the doctrinal and pastoral DNA you have to give, would faith in Christ be properly established? Would those people be served well for generations?
So let’s go! But . . . let’s go for all the right reasons. And let’s go only after being assessed, prepared, affirmed, and sent by your church.
Ephesians 3:20–21 (ESV) Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
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