Missions Is People, Not Projects

Frequently missionaries report on the success of their ministry by listing off the schools built, churches erected, and roofs put on homes. This is not wrong or unbiblical. The concern is the focus must always remain on the people served and not the projects completed. Biblically, whether missionary, pastor, evangelist or congregant, our focus should be on people.

projectsNot all bad
Projects are not wrong. The construction or renovation of clinics, houses or seminaries should not be considered sinful or a waste of missions resources. Projects are a great way to draw attention to a greater ministry and to the glory of Christ. A project that does not draw people in or provide an opportunity to share Christ is not focused in the proper place.

The purpose of constructing a house is to have intimate time with the family and neighbors so the love of Christ can be shared. The purpose of a medical clinic is to draw people in so the gospel and the mercy of Christ can be shared. The purpose of a new school is to attract people so the grace of God and the teaching of his truth. It is not about the building it is about the people who enter. A project brings great glory to the Lord when it is used to tend to the heart and soul of the people involved.

In the western world it is cultural for us to be focused on the project. To a westerner the experience of organizing and completing a project brings joy and satisfaction. To the rest of the world a project is an excuse to relate with people. Neither perspective is right or wrong. When we are involved in missions we must never forget that God did not send us to another culture to promote our own culture and views, he sent us to promote his culture and views. God’s servants have always been sent because of the people.

God’s wants them
lostIn the time it takes you to read this sentence eight more people have died and most of them don’t know Jesus. Missions is that important. By anchoring your ministry in the matchless love of God you will discover people will become more important than programs and projects. Missions is an obedient servant taking a perfect message about a merciful Savior to a lost people. Keith Wright said, “Lost people matter to God, and so they must matter to us.”

The Bible cries for the disciples of Christ to reach out to the lost and bring them the unmatchable truth of the gospel. Early Israel showed us people help each other glorify God (Ex 17:12) and that we are always to serve the poor (Deut 15:11). Jesus instructed his followers begger dogthat helping people brings glory to God (Mat 5:16). Jesus wants us to give to beggars (Mat 5:42), treat the sick (Mat 10:8) and feed the hungry (Mat 25:35-40). James called us to visit orphans and widows (Jas 1:17) and provide for the needy (Jas 2:14-17).  John told us to love (1 Jn 3:17) and sacrifice (Jn 15:13) for other people. And, throughout his epistles Paul instructed us to bare each other’s burdens and to provide for the needs of others (Acts 20:35-38, Rom 12:13, Rom 15:1, 2 Cor 8:9, Gal 6:2, Eph 4:28, Phil 2:4). Turn God’s passion for the unsaved people of the world into your passion for the unsaved people of the world.

Jacquelyn K. Heasley said, “How you believe God perceives people will determine how you respond to them.” We are called to have a burden for people, not because serving others comes natural to our sinful heart. Instead, we are called to show God’s grace and mercy to people because God first showed grace and mercy to us. God has called his disciples to reach into the lives of other people so his glory is multiplied.

messyGet messy
Doing missions by focusing on a project can often be easier than focusing on people. Cinder blocks don’t complain. Planks of wood don’t cheat or steal. And, bags of cement are seldom ungrateful. But, it is these messy, deceitful, lying people God wants us to serve. Missionaries are called to risk their pride, gamble their health and jeopardize their lives so fellow sinners can grow closer to the Lord. The beggar, prostitute, drug addict, shut in, single mom and wino are people God has placed in your path so you can share his radical mercy. Frankly, projects are benign, people are toxic. God did not call us to minister to inanimate objects, but to sinners. And, guess what sinners do. Yep, they sin. And, if you get close enough they will sin all over you. John Piper says we are to, “Keep moving toward significant investment in other people and making a difference, not just padding our lives with comfort.”

You’ve heard the joke…Missionary #1 asks missionary #2, “How is your ministry going?” Missionary #2 responds, “It’s great. It would be better if it weren’t for all the people.” Why is that joke funny? It is funny, because it is true. Missions would be wonderful if not for all the sinners. Brothers and sisters, we have been called to dive into the muck and mire and engage sinners, not for our benefit, but for theirs. And, not for our glory, but God’s.