ArticleMissionary Life

Why Relationships Are the ‘Stuff’ of the Missionary Task

When we abstract the advance of the gospel from flesh-and-blood human beings, we miss the mark.
It’s easy to think of missions work as consisting merely of travel, study, preaching, building, working, and sustaining ministries—and it is all of those things. But the biblical vision for missions is also deeply tied to personal relationships.

Personal relationships make up the substance of meaningful missionary work. This is how God desired to set up his work in the world. Relationships are important to God, and they are the means by which he has chosen to advance his kingdom to the lost in every nation.

The Apostle Paul says to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia. … But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:18, 24).

Paul’s mission is deeply connected with building personal relationships—and it always a priority “from the first day.” Here are three ways that we can follow Paul’s example in prioritizing relationships in our missions work.

1. The Missionary Task Centers on a Relationship with God

The most important relationship in missions work is the relationship between the believer and God. The missionary is sent to catalyze an opportunity for the hearer of the gospel to come to Christ through the Spirit by faith.

John explains: “The life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:2-3).

The missionary’s task is to extend this fellowship—the fellowship “with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”

2. The Missionary Task Redeems Seemingly Mundane Relationships

Second, missionaries are meant to invest deeply in the mundane relationships they build with those in their target city, town, or neighborhood. This sort of thing happens all throughout Scripture, but here is one example from the book of Acts:

“A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.’ And she prevailed upon us.” (Acts 16:14-15)

Notice how even Luke takes personal interest in Lydia—he wants the readers to feel that they know her, which is why he showcases her profession, her origin, and even her personality. Mundane relationships are the soil in which God bears beautiful gospel fruit.

3. Missionary Work Strengthens Relationships in the Church

Finally, missionary work is meant to strengthen the relationships among the churches—both in the target area and among the supporting churches at home. Luke explains in Acts what happened with Paul and Barnabas:

“So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers.” (Acts 15:3)

Once again, Luke names the cities that experienced “great joy”—he gives Phoenicia and Samaria, and the churches therein, a shout-out. He knows that naming relationships matter and showcases the significance of celebrating God’s work together—as a community—in faithfully carrying out God’s vision to bring the gospel to the nations.

Conclusion

Remember, as you carry out God’s call on your life to preach the gospel to the lost, that every stage and aspect of your journey is full of relationships that God cares about and wants to use for his glory. Pursue moments that catalyze a moment of encounter with Christ for the lost. Enrich your mundane relationships with opportunities for gospel sharing and encouragement. And share the victories God brings to your ministry with the church so that you can celebrate his faithfulness together and share in the encouragement of the fruit of the gospel.

About the Author

P.C. Maxwell is a writer and theologian. He holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, M.Div. from Westminster Theological Seminary, and a Bachelor’s in biblical languages from Moody Bible Institute. He resides in the Chicago area with his wife and contributes regularly to ABWE’s blog and communications strategy.

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