American Christians are sometimes misguided when it comes to foreign mission work. Some might believe that money, energy, and resources are better used at home in spite of the fact that more dollars are spent in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world. Some folks might even point out that unsaved people reside in U.S. communities in an effort to limit global outreach. Furthermore, some brethren will claim that the congregation’s budget contains no room to commit to foreign mission work but somehow it has plenty of funds for padded pews, cradles, decorative tables, large kitchens, pavilions, awnings, and playgrounds. If congregations of the Lord’s church only knew of the benefits of foreign missions to the local church, there would be more effort to support them.
The first benefit of foreign missions is that it helps the local church follow the Lord’s directive. The church’s spiritual directive is soul-driven. God is mindful of the lost when he waits patiently and delays judgment (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:3-4). Paul was mindful of the lost in his anticipation to preach the gospel to others (Romans 1:15-16). Therefore, the church should be mindful of the lost since the members of it are considered the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13).
The Lord’s directive is clearly seen in the Great Commission. Thus, foreign missions reminds the church of Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:19-20. The Limited Commission of Matthew 10 concentrated exclusively on the Jewish nation in Jesus’ day. In contrast, the Great Commission directs Christians to go to the ends of earth for the cause of Christ in the present day. The Great Commission is called “great” for at least three reasons. First, it is great, because the Lord, himself, uttered those words. Second, it is great, because it is a noble calling. Third, it is great, because of the grand scope of its application. Without a global outreach, Christians are not practicing the Great Commission. Simply stated, the church’s mission is the Great Commission!
The second benefit of foreign missions is that it helps the local church find purpose in identity. The church’s unique business is people. Foreign missions helps to connect saved people to lost people. Rather than focus on money, time, success, efficiency, or social or political agendas, missionaries help people draw near to God (James 4:8). They help people in foreign lands who are outside of the body of Christ to develop and confess faith in Christ (Romans 10:9-10). For those who are already Christians in foreign lands, missionaries encourage and assist their growth in the Lord (Hebrews 5:14).
Additionally, foreign missions helps the church to develop its purpose in saving souls. Everywhere Jesus went, he sought lost souls (Luke 19:10). He talked to individuals and groups. He talked to rich and poor. He talked to Jews and Gentiles. He talked to males and females. He talked to urban folks and rural folks. Indeed, he talked to everyone about God and his kingdom. From the book of Acts, one observes that the early disciples followed Jesus’ example of what he did and taught (Acts 1:1). As a result, nearly every chapter speaks to the growth of disciples in some way (Acts 2:41; 4:4; etc.). In this way, foreign missions helps to further connect the church to soul-saving. Physicians heal the body; counselors restore the mind; but evangelists save the soul. There is no higher vocation than sharing the gospel with another person. Not surprisingly, the Apostle Paul wrote of evangelists’ feet being beautiful (Romans 10:13-15).
The third benefit of foreign missions is that it helps members of the local congregation to focus on others rather than on self. It is easy for human beings to become self-absorbed. In the realm of Christianity, for example, Christians sometimes stop sharing the faith with others. Foreign missions, however, proves that Christians are still interested in religious things. Christians in the US often encounter those who are uninterested in spiritual truths. Unfortunately, Christians sometimes allow these encounters to relax evangelism’s urgency. However, when missionaries visit the local church to give their reports, it can serve to remind the members of the fact that the fields are still white to harvest. An even greater reminder of this truth comes when members visit the foreign mission fields. Both of these efforts can help to increase the church’s fervor to reach the lost just like the early Christians.
Similarly, missions shifts the church’s focus from pettiness to people. How many disagreements have risen over personality conflicts? Ditch-diggers don’t seem to argue over the details of their shovel as long as they do their best at their job. Likewise, effective soul-winners seldom resort to pettifoggery because the stakes of salvation are simply too high. Paul’s words are clear, “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless” (Titus 3:9).
Christians can also become self-absorbed congregationally. When congregations merely keep a preacher, pay the utility bills, and mow grass, evangelism has gone from history to myth. Where can a struggling church turn to but to soul-winning evangelists? Foreign missions can pull the church out of “maintenance mode.” In some places, the 21st-century model seems to have replaced missions with do-good, be-seen, outreach. Yes, the local church should strive for a positive influence in the community; but it will only thrive by firmly handling the plow (Luke 9:62), setting the eyes on the harvest (John 4:35) and carrying the gospel with beautiful feet to some soul in need of Christ (Romans 10:15).
Moreover, missions feeds local evangelism. In places where congregations are evangelizing the lost, commitments to foreign missions exemplify the results of soul-winning efforts. While fruit and number will vary greatly from mission point to mission point, the results unify and energize the efforts in the local congregation.
The fourth benefit of foreign missions is that it helps the local church reach its full potential. Naturally, Christians understand that a congregation cannot be the Lord’s church without the biblical plan of salvation. Equally important to the Lord, however, is having a scriptural eldership in place in local congregations both at home and abroad. The benefits of having a congregation with biblically appointed elders is clear. In addition to helping souls be taught the gospel in order to be saved, foreign missions helps to mature men in the faith to qualify for the role of elder.
There are several conclusions and observations that might be noticed. First, neither foreign mission work nor local work is more important than the other—both are equally important to the Lord’s church. Second, foreign missions simply cannot exist without a healthy local congregation. Third, local congregations without foreign missions is neither light nor hope to the world beyond the local community. Congregations that want to engage in the benefits offered by foreign missions may call a missionary today.