The Importance of Work in Missions
Over the last few months, I have been struggling with how a missionary is supposed to “work”. Ever since I entered life as a working adult, I have always had a schedule, a to-do list, things that engaged my mind, emotions, and muscles. First, I worked in refrigeration and air-conditioning. Every day I had jobs, places to go, people to meet, and problems to solve. I then started interning at a church along with running my business and studying theology. 4 Years later I was called as a youth pastor at a local church. Every week I had to prepare messages, Bible studies, meet people, counsel people etc. etc. This was all incredibly fulfilling and gave me immense joy. Why? The simple answer is: work is good. Work is not a curse, nor the result of the fall. Here are some points to ponder…
Work is good because God works.
And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. Genesis 2:2
for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:13
Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. Psalm 111:2
God is the ultimate source of all truth and goodness. Since the creator works, we can be sure that work is good.
God tells us to work
Work is good because our good creator God ordained it and tells us to work.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. Genesis 2:15
Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Ephesians 4:28
For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12
As beings created in the image of the God who works, work is an important element of our existence. Not only do we glorify our creator when we enjoy creation through work; we find blessing, fulfilment and joy as we work while giving thanks to Him.
Work helps us to grow
There are certain skills and disciplines that we can only learn through work. Punctuality, organization, interpersonal skills etc. etc. Work helps us to grow and develop as human beings. It helps build character when we problem solve, protect relationships, serve, and care for others. To put it simply, work stops me from being a sorry bag of bones sitting in front of the TV or behind the PlayStation controller.
Work gives dignity and joy
There is much more to work than earning money. Work provides a sense of dignity within a community. One of the first things we ask new people we meet is “So what do you do?” A big part of our identity and sense of dignity depends on the answer to that question. This is another reason why work is important. Without work, we start to feel like we are not contributing which in turn breeds feelings of despair, fear and discontentment. In contrast, when we are passionate about our work it produces good self-esteem and healthy joy which is all common grace provided by God.
Now that we understand the value and importance of work, how do we relate this to evangelism and missions? Well, there is a danger to think that pastors and missionaries don’t work, therefore they have time to do Bible study, evangelism, and preaching. I see two problems with that kind of thinking. Firstly, it immediately excludes the vast majority of Christians from doing any evangelism. The workplace is where we find the most people in need of hearing the gospel and these are places pastors and missionaries cannot naturally engage. Secondly, Pastors and missionaries who don’t work, actually disobey God and will suffer emotional and spiritual harm because working is an important part of our being. This is where it becomes personal to me. As a missionary, I have been struggling with how to fulfil my God-given desire to work and contribute meaningfully. What is the job of a missionary? Yes, as an OMF missionary we share the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all its fulness to East Asia’s people, to the glory of God. But what does this look like practically? I have often felt extremely guilty; thinking that I should stand on corners handing out Gospel tracts, I should knock on doors and ask if I can talk to people about Jesus. Is this what a missionary should be doing daily? Honestly, I am quite a shy person when it comes to meeting new people. It takes a lot of guts to walk to my neighbour uninvited and try to make conversation in a language I am still not really comfortable in. Also, when I reflect on my life and ministry over the years, this cold contact method is not how the Lord has used me in the past. Does this mean I can’t be useful to God here? This week has been particularly painful since we just graduated from language school and moved into a new city, where we know nobody. When I look at my schedule for next week, I basically have 3 appointments: Open a bank account, go to our church’s prayer meeting, meet an OMF leader. I’m not thinking wow! look at how much free time I have. I’m thinking oh nooooo! What on earth am I doing here! My God-given impulse to work and contribute has sprung into action and has forced me to think about how I should work as a missionary in Japan. For the next few days, I am planning to think through this idea of work and how it applies to me as a missionary in Japan. What work am I passionate about? What brings me joy? What am I gifted in? What would make a meaningful contribution? Here are my ideas so far,
It is my work as a missionary to teach the Bible
I love the Bible. I love it because it introduces us to God. I love it because it teaches us to live in the most satisfying and joyful way. I have often been told that my Bible teaching is simple and easy to understand. I believe God has used me in this way and I want to work in teaching the Bible in Japan.
It is my work as a missionary to build relationships
Since I am not someone who can easily and naturally communicate the Gospel to cold contacts, I need to invest in deepening relationships which grow naturally. From these relationships, I can begin to look at ways to teach the Bible to my new friends. This is the strategy that has brought me the most joy and success in the past.
It is my work as a missionary to study Japanese
Studying does not particularly give me joy but sometimes work calls for things we don’t particularly like. I know that in order to build relationships and teach the Bible I need to have good Japanese so it should be included in my work schedule.
It is my work to mobilize prayer
Finally, I realize that I have a unique opportunity to help many friends and churches know how to pray for Japan. My communication to churches and supporters is not simply a duty box to check but an essential part of my work.
This is just the start of my thinking process but it has helped to relieve some of the anxiety I have about not feeling like I am working in a meaningful and enriching way. My challenge has been how to see my mission as work, but for most of you, the challenge will be how to see your work as mission. Your workplace is where you spend at least 1/3 of your entire day. How can this large portion of your life be redeemed for the mission of God? Perhaps it will be helpful to like me, take time to think about how you fuse your work with your mission. At the same time, don’t think missionaries don’t struggle with this. The struggle is similar but simply starting from a different point; how do we fuse our mission with our work?
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10
 The Fall is a term in Christian teaching that refers to the first sin recorded in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve (Our first human ancestors) disobeyed God and chose their own way of happiness instead of trusting God’s good way. This resulted in the fall of mankind. Falling from close intimacy with God to separation and misery. This is the sin Jesus came to defeat on the cross. John 3:16