3 Bad Reasons to Pursue Missions—and 3 Good Ones 

A call to global missions should be approached with the right motivations and a heart aligned with God’s will. 

As believers, we recognize the missionary task as a noble pursuit—so noble that a perceived calling to the nations oftentimes bypasses the scrutiny of godly elders with respect to one’s qualifications for the task. 

I recently saw a post on X (formerly Twitter) from a missionary pleading for missions agencies not simply to send just any warm body to the field. This man was more content with fewer, qualified missionaries than with a great wave of young, overzealous, immature workers. His perspective is worth considering. 

If you or someone you know has contemplated a calling to more deeply engage in global missions, consider a few faulty motivations to avoid and their healthier counterparts. 

1. Bad Motive: To Shirk Local Responsibility (“I just can’t see myself making a difference here.”

I’ve often appealed to what Mack Stiles and others have called the 747 principle—the fact that one does not automatically become a faithful evangelist in midair on their way to the mission field. Local ministry is the training ground for global missions. Generally speaking, those who are not faithful stewards of the gospel in their current context are unlikely to improve if moved elsewhere. 

If you’re considering missions to avoid your current responsibilities at home, think again. Proverbs 17:24 warns that “the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth”—meaning that there is a sense in which we should beware of casting our gaze toward the horizon at the neglect of the responsibilities immediately before us. Jesus called his apostles to begin as witnesses in their native Jerusalem and Judea before expanding to Samaria and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Even the Apostle Paul, a world traveler, refused to unduly boast beyond his personal sphere of influence (2 Corinthians 10:15-16). 

By analogy, we too should pursue faithfulness in our local context before venturing abroad. For many in the US, there is much to be done at the neighborhood, city, and school board level in terms of Christian witness and “salty” influence—work sadly left undone by most churches. Missions should be an extension and transference of your existing ministry, not an escape from it. 

Better: Your Local Work Appears to Be “Done” 

In contrast with an escapist mindset, Scripture does describe a scenario in which a minister of the gospel may sense the cutting of the proverbial anchors in their current setting. Paul sensed that his gospel ministry was “complete” in certain regions (Romans 15:23), even though many lost and unevangelized persons presumably remained.  

If you have diligently served your local community and reach a sense that your current calling has been fulfilled, this may be a sign that the Lord is preparing you for new fields of service. When this happens, do not take it lightly—God may be moving you on. 

2. Bad Motive: To Escape Your Current Church (“If only I could plant a church where I’m in charge—I would….”

A running joke among pastors in some circles is that church splits are what we call “Baptist church planting.” All joking aside, far too many churches and even entire denominations start because a resolvable grievance is left unaddressed, driving a wedge into the local church. 

Leaving your church to pursue missions or church planting as a way to flee unresolved issues or conflicts is fundamentally misguided. Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 5:23-24 and Matthew 18 show us that God desires reconciliation, and his high priestly prayer in John 17 vividly depicts his desire for the unity of his sheep. Schism is a last resort, and a schismatic spirit is a suspicious motive in one who desires to serve abroad, typically betraying a desire for control or an undue fascination with a particular, idiosyncratic form of ministry. 

Seek to carry the gospel, and not unresolved baggage, to the mission field.

If you have unresolved issues or personal conflicts in your church, work towards restoration before undertaking the missionary task. Seek to carry the gospel, and not unresolved baggage, to the mission field. 

Better: God Has Opened a Door for Effective Ministry 

In the course of the Christian life, doors of ministry opportunity will open. Sometimes Paul walked through them, as in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:9). Yet at other times in the apostle’s life, he turned aside from opportunities because of a lack of internal peace or support personnel (2 Corinthians 2:13). In the latter case, Paul sought missionary opportunities to serve alongside those he knew and loved. His motive as a goer was to draw closer to his brothers in the Lord, not to isolate himself from them. 

When God providentially opens doors for mission work, such as through the invitation of a trustworthy fellow believer or at the recommendation of your local church, consider if the Lord might be at work in drawing you. Such opportunities should be prayerfully considered because, when God opens such doors, he also provides the means and grace to walk through them. 

3. To Find Yourself (“My life isn’t having an impact right now; I want more adventure.”) 

Simply put: missions is about dying to self. Self-discovery, or the actualization of one’s self, runs entirely counter to Jesus’ call to his disciples. 

Yes, it is true that in serving Christ we find the greatest and truest expression of our being; it is he who made us to bring him glory, after all. But the fulfillment we experience along that journey starts with seeking to conform our will to his rather than a desire to express our own natural identity in some way, as though the world was our canvas and our carefully crafted personae were the brush. Search your heart, and mortify any self-seeking desire for fame. Be like Timothy, who Paul said pursued not his own interests but those of Christ (Philippians 2:21). 

Better: Godly Men Recognize and Affirm Your Qualification 

Humble servants of Christ are often blind in some way to the grace of God in their lives, while those around them often see that grace manifested in visible impact in the lives of others. Lean into this objective, external perspective from godly peers. The first missionary movement started in Acts 13 because the Holy Spirit moved through the elders of the local church to identify those who were qualified to be sent (vv. 1-3). Likewise, in 1 Timothy 4:14, Paul reminds Timothy that his calling to ministry is not the mere byproduct of his own intuitions but is also the result of the affirmation and ordination of other gospel ministers: “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.” 

No one can be self-called. 

When godly leaders recognize and affirm your calling and gifts for missions, it provides biblical endorsement to pursue this path. Their affirmation is crucial as it comes from those who have observed your life, ministry, and character. It’s important to seek and heed the counsel of mature believers who can provide guidance, support, and confirmation of your call to missions. No one can be self-called. 

Conclusion: Right Mission, Right Motives 

While the call to missions is a noble part of the Christian life, it must be approached with the right motivations and a heart aligned with God’s will. Not everyone is truly called, after all. Avoiding responsibilities, escaping conflicts, or seeking personal fulfillment are not godly nor prudent reasons to pursue ministry abroad. Instead, focus on fulfilling your local calling, recognizing God’s providential openings, and seeking the affirmation of godly leaders. By doing so, you ensure that your pursuit of missions is rooted in faithfulness, wisdom, and a desire to glorify God in all things.