restoring our biblical and constitutional foundations


On Being a Missionary

 David Alan Black  

Most of you know that Becky and I are fulltime missionaries to Ethiopia, even though we do not actually live in that country. One of the hardest things about being a missionary is spending time on "home assignment." But I've got to remember that all ministry, whether of word or deed, whether there or here, is equally acceptable and pleasing to God as long as it is motivated by love.

How, then, can I stay focused on missions?

Speaking about missions is a good start, whether in my classes or when I am invited to be a guest speaker in a church somewhere. No one better than a missionary can inspire people to a life of sacrifice for Jesus. Hearing "live missionaries" while growing up in Hawaii was always a special blessing to me, especially when the report was about God's work rather than a boring, factual itinerary. Our Ethiopia team members do an exceptional job of presenting missions in churches, clubs, and even public schools. Some are mechanics, pharmacists, nurses, teachers, but they each have a dramatic story to tell. None of us is a "professional," but that hasn't intimated us in the least! We tell it like it is, good and bad, though we emphasize the positive simply because there is so much positive to report.

Being on "home assignment" is also an excellent opportunity for assessment -- taking stock of what has happened in the past and what lies ahead. Setting goals and objectives is an on-going process. Has there been a "return on investment"? (The investor, of course, is God.) Have the results been God-honoring? What concerns need to be dealt with? Is the fruit "remaining"? Success in each of these areas can be measured. But however we answer these questions, the bottom line is that "success" for a missionary is measured primarily by obedience to God's leading every day, whether one is in Ethiopia or Virginia. I've never met anyone who has served Jesus as a missionary say that he or she regrets the experience. The missional life is a life that makes a difference. It's the greatest adventure and challenge in the world. It is the book of Acts being lived out in Technicolor.

Peter Wagner once said, "Once you ask Jesus Christ to take control of your life, involvement in world missions is no longer optional." As I understand missions, the greatest need today is not to do the work of church planting. There are already churches in China, in Egypt, in Iraq, in Iran even. We make the greatest difference, I think, by coming alongside our Christian brothers and sisters and partnering with them with our prayers, our pocketbooks, and, when possible, our presence.

"Wait a minute, Dave," you say. "I thought you were a Greek professor, not a missionary!" In a sense you're right. But we must not neglect the one for the other. Teaching Greek may be my job, but the Great Commission is my business. Fulltime. The call to be a disciple-maker is our chief calling as Christians, whatever our specific employment night be. We are all called to "go and bear fruit -- fruit that will last" (John 15:16).

"If you love me," said Jesus, "you will obey what I command" (John 14:15). And that is the heart of the matter. Our God is a sending God. "As the Father sent me, I am sending you" (John 20:21). Every Christian is sent, just as Jesus was sent. If you are a genuine Christian, you are a missionary. (I could have entitled this essay "On Being a Christian.") We are called to go even if it is only to the next block.

So the question is: Are you and I going?

February 12, 2011

David Alan Black is the editor of

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