People have asked me the question, “Do missionaries help or hurt?” I decided to research missionaries who have helped communities and those who hurt places.
Do missionaries help or harm? Missionaries can cause harm because they’re human and not perfect, but missionaries who truly follow Jesus and carry out the Great Commission help more than they harm. They do the most important work in the world by loving people as Jesus would, they share the gospel, and they add value to communities.
If being a missionary and living for Jesus is worth dying for, then certainly it’s worth putting in the effort to do it in a way that helps more than it harms.
3 Ways Missionaries Help (With Examples)
Missionaries first and foremost are vessels of God’s grace. They are not super-Christians or part of an elite group, but they are sold out for following Jesus wherever he calls them.
They aren’t following Jesus because they have to or because they are trying to earn God’s love, they follow him because they know they are already loved by him and want to love others.
When missionaries do their work from this perspective, they spread the gospel, obey God and love people well, and they add value to communities.
1. Missionaries Spread The Gospel
The gospel is the most important message the world will ever hear.
Just in case your memory is a little rusty, the gospel is the story of how Jesus came down from heaven to become a man.
As a man, He suffered many of the same things we suffer and experience the same temptations we experience. He never gave into temptation and lived a sinless life.
(Read more about the Gospel message here.)
At the end of his sinless life on earth, Jesus was crucified for our sins but rose to life again on the third day, defeating the power of sin and death.
He did this so that you and I might believe in him, turn away from our sins, and have a relationship with him. This relationship lasts from the moment we accept Him all the way into eternity.
That’s the gist of the gospel message, and Jesus tells all believers to go and tell.
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.Matthew 28:19-20 CSB
Missionaries who live out Jesus’ message, aka The Great Commission, make disciples cross-culturally and want to see everyone saved.
A missionaries primary job is to spread the gospel, see people enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and make disciples who make disciples.
Even when things get tough, even to the point of death, missionaries trust God and believe no matter what that the gospel can change lives. The apostle Paul believed this in the New Testament, and so did Jim Elliot and his wife Elizabeth.
Jim Elliot – Missionary to Eduador
Jim Elliot was a missionary to Ecuador from 1952-1955. He married Elizabeth there, had a child, and sought to evangelize the Huaorani with four other men there.
Tragically, Jim and the four other men he was with were murdered by the Huaorani people, but his wife Elizabeth and the other missionaries chose to stay.
Why? Because they knew that God had called them there and God still loved the Huaorani people.
They knew that whoever should lose his life for Christ would find it, and from loving their enemies, they were able to witness to the very people who killed their husbands.
The Huaorani who had murdered the men later came to Christ, and the tribe ended its legacy of revenge killing.
Missionaries and even the son of one of the men killed with Jim Elliot continued to love and pour into the Huaorani tribesmen and now, that tribe has been changed forever because of the gospel and God’s love.
2. Missionaries Obey God and Love People
This one’s a no-brainer. To be an effective missionary, you have to obey God and love people.
God’s greatest commandments are to love him with all of your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love others as yourself, even your enemies.
If you love God, naturally you will obey Him and His command to love others. That’s how obeying God and loving people go hand in hand.
If missionaries don’t obey God, they will cause more harm than good because they are following their own methods and making themselves their god.
They won’t love people because they’ll be too focused on themselves, and that’s a form of idolatry. But, if missionaries do follow God and love people, amazing things could happen.
Amy Carmichael – Missionary To India
Amy Carmichael was an Irish missionary to India. She opened safe houses for children who were trafficked in Hindu temples, ministered even in Japan, and lead many people to Christ.
None of this would have happened if she had not obeyed God and loved people as Jesus loved them.
One day, when Amy and her brothers were coming home from church, they met a beggar woman and began to help her. but, when churchgoers noticed this, Amy hid her face in shame for helping someone who was so dirty and despised by her community.
After this happened, Amy heard the voice of God saying: “Gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, and straw–the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If the foundation survives, he will receive the reward”.
From there on out, Amy was dedicated to obeying God, not man, and sought to love people who were looked down on by society. You can read the rest of Amy Carmichael’s story here.
3. Missionaries Add Value To Communities
Missionaries can help communities by adding value to them.
I have to credit my Business professor for this wisdom, since he taught me that every effective missionary, every effective Christian, looks to add value to people’s lives.
Adding value doesn’t always mean that you have to do something grand. It could be picking up trash on the floor, helping a neighbor with groceries or everyday tasks, and serving people as Jesus would serve them.
When missionaries do this, communities will notice and they will want to know what makes missionaries different.
From there, people will want to know who Jesus is because he’s the one empowering missionaries to care about people enough to add value to their lives.
Some ways that missionaries add value to communities on the field today is by elevating the economy through business as mission, respecting the people group’s culture, and serving people in everyday tasks.
Business as mission is when missionaries start a cross-cultural business that creates jobs and lives out gospel principles.
It’s answering the question: “If Jesus were a businessperson or missionary here, what would that look like, and how can I be like that?”
When you add value in this way, you earn the respect from people because they see you are full of integrity and care about their livelihoods.
Then, they’ll be more likely to accept the gospel message because you’ve already shown them what it looks like in a business and in your life.
Missionaries also add value by respecting people’s cultures, not making people conform to their culture.
There are some sinful things within a culture that Christians shouldn’t be a part of, but when it comes to harmless things like dress, food, and everyday happenings, missionaries have to be respectful knowing that even Jesus adapted to human culture in order to relate and reach us.
By adding this to our lives as missionaries, and by serving others, we can add value to communities, build bridges to the gospel, and help more than we harm.
3 Ways Missionaries Cause Harm
Missionaries can cause harm by not respecting a people group’s culture, by flooding unsustained economies, and by going in alone.
All these ways are detrimental to the message and hope of the gospel.
1. Missionaries Don’t Respect A People Group’s Culture
I’m reminded of a story I heard of some missionaries who were building a ministry in Africa and were heavily invested in the community there.
All of a sudden, a big missions cooperation came down for a publicity shoot, donated a bunch of money to the community, and stayed just long enough to get some photos.
These people didn’t respect the culture at all. They didn’t get to know the locals, they didn’t wear the same clothing or share in the same meals, and ultimately didn’t care about anyone but themselves.
They didn’t add any value to the community or help in any way, and actually negatively affected the way the locals saw the American missionaries there.
Respecting the culture has a huge impact on the effectiveness of missions.
Another way that missionaries harm is when they think it’s all about changing people’s cultures rather than their view on God and the gospel.
The endgame is to change people’s hearts, not their cultures. Even Jesus humbled Himself and exchanged His heavenly culture for our broken, earthly one.
Because the purpose of a missionary is to stay focused on sharing the gospel, they shouldn’t try and change or disrespect the culture of a people group wherever they are in the world.
2. Missionaries Flood Unsustained Economies
One common way missionaries and even churches and charities cause harm is when they flood unsustained economies with free products.
This happens when a missionary brings in lots of supplies like shoes, clothes, electronics, etc., to a specific location and drowns out the businesses there that build their livelihood off of those products.
For example, a missionary from America, Europe, or a first-world country may bring in lots of donations of free clothing, but that means that local clothing businesses in that area will not get any business. Who wants to pay for clothes when they can get them for free?
When the free clothes are all gone, the business owners now have no funds to get their clothing business started up again.
This happens all the time in underdeveloped nations and the influx of donations from the west and from missionaries can be so sporadic that it actually causes more harm to the society than good.
You can watch the documentary Poverty, Inc of how this happens on Amazon here.
This doesn’t mean that you can never donate clothes again, just make sure you’re supporting things that will add value to the community.
3. Missionaries Go In Alone
Missionaries who go to the missions field alone can be extremely harmful.
Of course, there are cases where God leads missionaries on their own because no one will support them or listen to God’s call on their lives. Gladys Alward, a missionary to China, is a big example of how God can use people in this way. However, God doesn’t want us to go alone.
We were made to be relational beings, not only with God but with people.
Today, there are countless sending agencies that you can work with as a missionary to prepare you for the mission field and go out with a community of believers who will work with you.
Going in with the intention of doing missions work alone is prideful and will be hurtful to those you are trying to minister to as well as yourself.
You won’t be able to minister to people well because of burn-out and the lack of a team to encourage and help you.
One thing that is important to know about missionary work is that God calls the church to work together as one body despite members having different spiritual gifts and strengths.
It’s these different gifts that give people the ability to work well with one another and accomplish God’s goals together, not alone.
Why Missionaries Matter
Missionaries matter because when they’re obeying God and loving people, they make an impact on people’s lives for all of eternity.
Missionaries do this by spreading the gospel throughout all the nations so that people can know Jesus and be saved.
Mission work also helps hasten Christ’s second coming, where he will make all things right once every tribe, tongue, and nation has heard the gospel.
And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.Matthew 24:14 ESV
Following Jesus is the grandest adventure anyone could go on, it’s full of challenges and conflicts, but also full of eternal rewards and eternal joy.
Even when faced with death, missionaries have continued to follow God and his calling because they know that to live is Christ to die is gain.
They chose to love people like Jesus loves, add value to communities, and share the gospel with as many people as possible because impacting eternity for the better is the most helpful thing anyone could ever do.