“I’m not a hero. I’m just an ordinary person who heard God’s call.”
In a previous article I advised that there are several ways that young people can be preparing now to do international missions work someday. Some of those ideas included more commonly understood practicalities such as reading missionary biographies, studying the unreached people groups of the world, and taking missions trips as frequently as possible. These are all good steps, but in reality, none of them are necessary.
There is, however, a whole other category of “to-dos” that are incredibly important for young people to prepare for the field. That is what I wish to expand upon here.
Not Holy Now? You Won’t Be Then.
What is the only thing we know of Saul and Barnabas when the elders of the church select them for missions work? They were worshiping the Lord as well as fasting and praying (Acts 13:2-3). The life of a missionary is not for the super-gifted, mighty, or noble. Not typically anyways. Though many missionaries whose stories survive up to the present day do fit these descriptions, the vast majority of missionaries, myself included, are very normal, ordinary people.
This is so important for young people today to grasp. The modern missions heroes held up on platforms today give the impression that if you are good with people, a gifted communicator with charisma, and can learn a language quickly, then you are just who God is looking for.
Dangerously, this model appeals to the gifted who are not always the qualified. Missionaries who are not mature Christians steeped in the Scriptures, who in holiness before God are quick to repent and given to regular prayer—these are not ones fit for the edges of kingdom work. The pastoral qualifications are given to us for a reason. Those who seek to lead the people of God must be holy and above reproach—even not a new believer (1 Timothy 3:6). It doesn’t even matter if you’re gifted at sharing the gospel. If you are not holy, then missions is not for you just yet. Keep working on it by the grace of God.
Not Involved in Church Now? You Won’t Be Then.
How many young people in churches today aspire to be missionaries but aren’t themselves even members of the church they attend? To expand on my definition from earlier: “A missionary is someone a church sends to bring the gospel to another country” with the intention to plant local churches. This is what the apostles did. Aspiring or existing missionaries who have intentions to do otherwise need to examine their goals in light of Scripture and see if they fall short of our inspired examples.
Again, if you’re good with languages, go translate. If you’re good with children, go partner with an orphanage ministry. But while you’re there, make sure your personal calling matches Jesus’ Great Commission by making disciples and being a part of a church. None of us are lone rangers in kingdom work. We are called to be members of local assemblies. The Apostle Paul would be shocked by the disconnect Western missionaries have between their “calling” and the life of the local church.
I know of a missionary heading to eastern Europe who claims there are only two Baptist churches in the whole country, and that none are near him, meaning that he is going to have to start completely from scratch in his evangelism and church-planting endeavors. After hearing this, I pulled out Google Maps on my phone and quickly found that there were seven Baptist churches in his city! But they weren’t his “kind” of Baptist church, so he didn’t consider them legitimate, and thus chose to start all alone.
How much better would it be for him and his church-planting vision if he decided to join one of those seven churches to get started, even if he had some disagreements? How much better would it be for the spiritual health of his family in the interim? Not surprisingly, when I inquired about this missionary’s relationship to his sending church back in the United States, his family has only been a part of that church for a couple of years. We need to rethink the importance of church membership, both here now and there later.
Not Evangelizing and Discipling Now? You Won’t Be Then.
This reality goes hand in hand with church membership. Do you know how to disciple someone? Have you ever done it? Can you walk someone through a study of a book of the Bible? If not, how do you think you’ll be able to do it someday just because you go to a mission field?
If you’ve never discipled someone but you do want to learn how to do it, I have good news for you. Join a local church and ask your pastors to show you how. Sure, you can find tips on the internet. You can even get a book or two on how to do it. But neither of these things will show you how well you’re doing. Nor should they. That’s actually your pastor’s job. Let him do it.
Besides the one-on-one discipleship model, there are other aspects of evangelism and discipleship to consider. Have you ever preached on the street here in America? Yes, I said that, and it’s not as scary as you think! If you plan to do so in a foreign country, do it here. Get connected with some local abortion abolitionist groups who preach the gospel at abortion clinics or find solid, local churches around you who do street preaching and evangelism well.
How about preaching in general? Do you know how to do it? If you don’t know how to get to the main point of a text, explain it to a group of people, then apply it to their lives, what makes you think you’ll be good at it in Japanese?
Again, the local church is the best place to begin learning and sharpening these crucial skills. If you’re a young woman aspiring to missions, it would also be helpful to learn what healthy teaching looks like. You will be called to help disciple women in your future husband’s ministry and will need to know how to unpack and apply the Scriptures yourselves.
It might help to imagine yourself on the mission field right now, today. Ask yourself, do I know enough now to begin Biblical, Christ-exalting, excellent kingdom work right here and right now? If the answer is no, you’ve got work to do. And it is good and glorious work! There is no higher calling than to be a preacher of the gospel of Christ. And there is no better place on earth to begin your journey than your local church. After all, that’s what Paul and Barnabas did.
For further reading
Joseph Pliska is a church-planting missionary to Tokyo, Japan. He was ordained and sent out of Landmark Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. He is a husband to Sierah and father of a beautiful baby girl. He has a masters from Southern Seminary and records and produces Christian audiobooks on the side when not studying Japanese. Joe and his team in Japan have a heart to plant Baptist churches in urban Japan, led by mature and qualified men with the heart and training to evangelize and disciple others.
November 3, 2023
More from Joseph Pliska
My challenge for interested or aspiring missionaries is to do here and now what you want to do then and there. Missionaries are essentially full-time church members who are given to evangelism, discipleship, and serving the body.
Modern missions has gone off the biblical rails into the pit of pragmatism. Scripture and church history call us clearly to “do missions” as prescribed for us by Christ and his apostles.