To Change or to Enrich

In the U.S., our supporters tell us that being a missionary is the highest calling. They say that moving overseas to plant churches is of eternal significance. To them, missions is telling people about Jesus. That’s what they ask about when we talk: How many people have become Christians? How many churches have you planted? They see missions as a spiritual endeavor with spiritual effects.

Here in Western Europe, if I were to tell people that I’m a missionary, they’d ask me why I’m not in Africa or India passing out food to starving children. They’d assume that I’m a bleeding heart who wants to build schools and educate people about HIV. To them, missions is about meeting physical needs out of a spiritual motivation.

Two different understandings of missions. The goal of the first is to change people; the aim of the second is to enrich them. I’ve decided to be the second type of missionary.

I’m not buying into the idea that we can separate out the spiritual needs from the physical ones, or that it’s okay to focus on one and ignore the other. I don’t think a preaching a sermon is better than giving diapers to a poor mother. I think that passing out water to thirsty people is good evangelism, even if the bottles don’t have tracts attached.

Don’t get me wrong. Making people’s live better doesn’t just mean passing out coats and blankets. It means boldly speaking truth in every conversation. It means teaching, encouraging, challenging, giving, and serving. I believe that God can use me to bless people to repentance.

As goals, “change” and “enrichment” make for very different approaches to missions.

About E. Goodman

Ernest Goodman is a missiologist, writer, teacher, and communications strategist.