What Motivates Missions?


Since you’re reading a blog from a ministry called Reaching & Teaching, you probably already know that missions is important. But, here’s two big questions: What has prompted your interest in missions? And what keeps you coming back to missions work?

Some people get involved in missions because of the thrill of travel and the desire to do some good in the world. While that might be a good gateway into missions, those motivations can’t sustain. Travel gets old, and the frustrations that often accompany ministry undermine the sense of do-goodery.

We need to build up a biblical and holistic view of missions motivation. We need to see the impetus for going on mission from the Bible. We cannot pigeonhole ourselves into one solitary motivation. Though I believe that we all gravitate to one or two of these more naturally, recognizing a variety of positive motivations will help us to move forward when obstacles arise.


For me, this one has a particular pull. Why should I get up and do ministry internationally? Because Jesus said to do it! Matt 28:19a, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Here is a simple, clear vision for why I should be motivated to do missions. If we know the Lord, we will seek to obey his commandments (1 John 2:3).

Be careful to avoid a pitfall here, though. Sometimes, the desire to obey, which is good, can lead to less sympathy for the people with whom you are going to work. It is difficult to keep that desire to obey going when sinful people don’t cooperate. For some, this motivation endures a long time before waning due to stress and exertion, but the desire to obey Jesus can soften. We need something to keep it going.

God is Glorious (Love for God)

Obedience needs some fuel. One fuel for obedience is a vision of God that rightly accords with who the Scripture reveals him to be. Psalm 117:2, “For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.” Psalm 19’s vision of God as the mighty Creator also invokes a desire for more people to see the God of creation get his glory.

The old John Piper statement, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t,” comes into play here. We want people to see God as the glorious ruler of every person. We also love God and desire to express that love by telling other people about who he is. We love him so we obey him. Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God with our whole being (Matt 22:37). The passion we have for God’s glory will make an impression on the people we are around.

Generally speaking, it is a good way to be winsome for Jesus wherever we are. However, there are two pitfalls that I see here. One is to be so zealous for God’s glory that people feel like you are just preaching at them rather than to them. All your interaction is just a huge information dump. The other is an ethereal view of God and his love that de-emphasises who he is. God is glorious and he is mysterious, yet he has revealed himself. We cannot afford to make God seem too unreachable, nor too close. He is both close and far off. He is both a friend to sinners and the judge of all flesh. In other words, theology really matters, but we can’t forget that people need to see God as Father too.

Thankfulness for Jesus

In Luke 7:36-50, we read about a woman who entered into a Pharisee’s home to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. I wasn’t at that dinner party, but I am sure it was shocking to those who witnessed it. Jesus says that what she did made sense because she had been forgiven of her sins and she felt that keenly. In fact, Jesus sums up the entire episode like this, “But he who is forgiven little, loves little (Luke 7:47b).” The opposite is therefore true–she who loves much sees how much she has been forgiven. Paul uses similar reasoning when talking about forgiveness in the church (Eph 4:32). We love God because he first loved us and sent his Son to die for us. We want to tell the world about what Jesus has done for us.

Love for Others (Alleviating Suffering)

This is the one that motivates a lot of people. There are people made in the image of God out there, and they are hurting and the world they live in is all messed up. Human suffering is a real problem in our world. Right now, there are senseless conflicts claiming the lives of thousands of people: people dying of hunger, lack of clean water, preventable disease, and from human rights abuses. When we as believers see the suffering, our hearts go out to the world. Moreover, we see in Scripture that caring for our neighbors is expected. Matthew 22:39 says we ought to love our neighbors as ourselves. Added to that are Jesus’s words in Matthew 25:31-36 about how we serve Jesus by helping those in need. When taken together we can see how this is an actual motivation and biblical idea in the Christian life. How much more so when we think about the millions who don’t know Jesus.

Avoid the pitfall of helping heal bodies without seeking spiritual healing. We have to share with others that their suffering, sickness, and physical needs aren’t their ultimate needs. They need something bigger. They need the gospel.

Fear of Judgment (The End is Near)

Judgment is coming to all men. The righteous will be welcomed by grace through faith in Jesus and those that stand in their own good works will be cast out to a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 13:47-50). I am personally brokenhearted about this reality. Not because I see God as cruel or unfair, but because I am just like them except that I have heard the gospel. I see numbers from around the world about the need for churches. There are places that have no access to a credible witness to the gospel. They need to hear that Jesus is the Savior. I believe that God works in the heart of sinful people to draw them to himself, but that drawing takes place in the context of hearing the gospel message (Romans 10). People of every tribe, tongue, and nation need to hear the gospel because God has a people of every tribe, tongue, and nation (Revelation 5:9-10).

Watch for this pitfall: If we only share the gospel with unbelievers, then we neglect a big part of what we are called to do in missions. Matthew 28:19-20 includes a call to disciple, a call to teach. Sharing broadly and urgently cannot dictate our entire motivation and strategy. We must also engage in deep discipleship and ongoing teaching.

Bringing it all Together

What we need is something to help bring it all together. We need to know that engaging in missions is not an option. We are commanded by God to do missions. God is worthy of us telling the world who he is because he is so glorious, loving, and powerful. We need to spread abroad the message of God’s character. Jesus has done so much for us as believers that we are pushed to tell the people around us that Jesus has changed our lives. Our neighbors are hurting and we see that the gospel helps relieve that pain. They are also in danger of hell and need to be saved from it. Let all of these ideas swirl around in your heart and motivate you to get out there and stay out there. We ought to share the gospel because God is glorious, and by it sinners are made new with an urgency that judgment is coming.

Sam Behar

Sam and Summer Behar are preparing for service in Japan. Sam is a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. They have four children: Benjamin, Bethany, Jonathan, and Ellie.

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