The Purpose of Missions: Uh, What is It Again?

I’m not going to lie– my idea of missions has had an extreme makeover during the last several years. I pushed off shore thinking I knew so much about loving-well and Jesus-following in another culture, but I continue to learn that I probably know-wrong more than I know-right.

And this can be very disheartening for the hit-the-ground-running missionary. Independent or with an organization. Short-term or long-term. With kids or single. Social-justice-minded or gospel-driven or leadership-developing . When you continue to have your neat-and-tidy-boxes of the purpose of overseas missions {and effectiveness} slam-dunked with the realities on foreign soil in the 21st century, you tend to falter a bit.

Which leads me to a question I’d love to have us as a community discuss:

What, really, is the purpose of international missions? 

Is it to develop communities or to fight social injustice? Is it to disciple or evangelize or convert? Is it to be Jesus-with-skin-on or is it to save people from hell?  Should it look like developing national leaders or empowering the local church or handing out boatloads of resources?

And I know it sounds a bit wild, for me to even be asking this. But, honestly, really, I’m serious, I’ve had conversations over the past two years with lots of missionaries here and in SE Asia, and many of them have very different opinions on the answer. And this feels ineffective and . . . well, wrong-somehow.

Doctors know they are supposed to heal. Car mechanics fix vehicles. Teachers teach. What should be a missionary’s main goal? And is there a most effective way to reach it? 

All right, the gate is open, regardless of what latitude you call home:

 In one sentence, what is the chief purpose of overseas missions? And (the real conversation-starter) what is the most effective way to reach that goal? 

And, while we’re in the conversation, do you think that the main purpose of missions has shifted over the last generation?


– Laura Parker, co-founder and editor, former aid worker in Thailand


Also, would you consider sharing this conversation via Facebook or twitter to ask your friends to join in the conversation?  I’d love to see what the general consensus is. Honest, respectful answers welcome! 

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Laura Parker

Living on three continents and moving 15 times in 15 years of marriage, Laura is no stranger to transition. A freelance writer, Laura is also co-founder of A Life Overseas.

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