Good Theology Equals Good Missions: A Review of Missions by the Book

Some think that reducing good missions down to good theology is overly simplistic. But that is the very kind of simplicity that refreshes a missionary’s soul.

We are coming up on our 10 year anniversary of living and working in Tanzania. It is our Tanziversary, if you will. You won’t? Okay . . . I don’t blame you. No one needs to get on board with that awkward attempt at word smithery.

Over the last ten years, I have lost count of all the missions books read, seminars attended, trainings and workshops joined. Each one has brought unique perspectives from believers all around the world, who are seeking to make disciples and plant churches. We are not at a loss for content.

In fact, sometimes the overwhelming amount of methodological content can send us into a disoriented swirl of discouragement and doubt. At the beginning of our time on the field, we even had a discouraged teammate resign after attending one of these seminars. He felt helpless and overwhelmed at the task ahead, convinced that there wasn’t a good path forward for overseas missionaries, and disheartened at the damage done by so many missionary endeavors that had gone before us.

He wasn’t wrong to be discouraged. He wasn’t wrong to raise big questions about methodology and what place the American missionary has in cross-cultural church planting. He was like many of us youngish missionaries, who sought to reach the nations, only to finish language school asking ourselves, “Now what? Where do we even begin and what is our part in God’s missionary mandate to the church?”

Sometimes we can get so overwhelmed by new techniques, exciting and flourishing methodologies, and rapidly multiplying movements that we feel like we are chasing down the Holy Spirit to see where he is moving . . . yet, somehow we are always steps behind.

Why won’t he move more in our direction? Why does it seem like amazing movements are happening all over the world, while we are just over here involved in another cultural misunderstanding with our local ministry partners and pronouncing another word incorrectly? Where is that “wind” in the house of Islam? Are we wasting our time? Are we wasting supporter’s money? Why do we feel like we are drowning in details, culture, missteps, and discouragement, instead of being more, well, radical?

I’m speaking to fellow overseas workers here—we have probably seen it all, right? Just in our tiny corner of East Africa, we have been alarmed by the extremes we have seen in various mission’s methodologies. From paternalistic American church planters, who can’t quite given up control, to a missionary who lost himself so deeply in a secret movement endeavor that he ended up converting to Islam and leaving his family. Then, there are those struggling with burnout and discouragement, just holding their breath, and praying that they can make it to their next furlough.

Sometimes us missionaries get so lost in between chasing what is working and avoiding past mission’s mistakes that we become stuck – wavering, wandering and ineffective. I have certainly found myself there over the years. I recently read a newly released book by Alex Kocman and Chad Vegas titled Missions by the Book: How Theology and Missions Walk Together that gave a refreshingly biblical refocus in the midst of some of that lostness. Whether you are serving in your local church, considering missions, freshly out of language school, or deep into your long-term missionary journey – this book is a must-read.

Some may think that reducing good missions down to good theology is overly simplistic. But I can assure you that, as a long-term missionary, this is the very kind of simplicity that refreshes our souls and reminds us of what God has asked from us, from his church.

We can certainly learn from other methodologies, and we must be diligent in our study of language and culture and other disciplines. But we must never stop being amazed at the extraordinary things that God is doing by his ordinary means of grace. We must never believe ordinary gospel preaching to be less than enough.

Many books on missions that I have read over the years have increased my desire to do more—to strive—to attempt a new and exciting method. But Missions by the Book increased my love for the church. It amplified my desire to worship and to abide in him. At times, reading felt like a balm to this restless and often discontented missionary heart. Other moments, I was pounding my fist and shouting, “Yes!”

Throughout the book I needed to contemplate and ponder some valid and important critiques brought forward—grappling with our own experiences and methodologies we accepted/rejected/questioned during the last ten years overseas.

I often found myself closing the book to repent of the pragmaticism and the many distractions that we have allowed to cloud our mission over the years. I am grateful for this important and timely work by Alex and Chad and the revitalized excitement I have in being part of Christ’s mission to save the nations.

Want to read more about the relationship between missions and theology?

Download the first chapter of Missions by the Book for free.

Stephanie Boon

Stephanie Boon is an ABWE missionary who lives in Tanzania with her husband and their five children.  She co-founded Sifa Collective, which equips women with the hope of the gospel and tools to launch their own local businesses. After earning her M.A. in Counseling and B.S. in Counseling (Theology/Psychology), she worked with colleagues to open a Community Counseling Center in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania where they provide gospel-centered individual and group counseling, and counseling training for local churches. Read her blog at Things We Didn't Know or support her ministry.