Even if a missionary moves to a new country with your family and the full support of your local church, that missionary still lands in a new place without any established friendships, a mental map of the nearest grocery outlet, and any natural sense of comfort.
God knows this, and this is why the work of missionaries and the mission of the Holy Spirit are so closely intertwined. Where God sends missionaries, he sends his Spirit to empower, grow, and convert through his missionaries. Peter testifies before the Pharisees in Acts 5:
“The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.” (Acts 5:30-32)
Peter here locates the Holy Spirit as the climax of God’s work through Christ, and the foundation of his bearing testimony before the Pharisees. Consider three ways that God uses the Holy Spirit to continue his missionary vision in the 21st century.
1. The Holy Spirit Empowers Missionaries to Go
The Spirit works in the hearts of believers to testify about God. The Spirit serves a unique function in the hearts of believers to prompt them to relate to God in a fitting way. “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8:15).
Jesus explains this in deeper detail in relation to missions work in particular: “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning” (John 15:26-27).
2. The Holy Spirit Makes Missionaries Holy
The credibility of the gospel is deeply tied to the moral character of those who preach it. This is why Paul gives higher standards for elders than he does for Christians when instructing Timothy and Titus to appoint elders in the churches they plant.
Missionaries must meet these standards in order to credibly plant churches across the globe, and the Spirit is the one who works in the hearts of missionaries to pursue and maintain holiness, as Peter writes: “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).
The Apostle Paul applies this more explicitly to missions work in relation to the Holy Spirit: “Grace has been given to me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:15).
3. The Holy Spirit Works in the Hearts of Hearers
Finally, the Holy Spirit is the one who works in the hearts and minds of those who hear the gospel. The missionary’s job is to preach the gospel without ceasing, and to do so with consistency, diligence, faithfulness, and love.
Speaking of the Spirit, Jesus explains: “When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned” (John 16:8-11).
The Spirit convicts. The Spirit saves. The Spirit rescues souls from the “prince of this world.” And he does it by bringing them into the kingdom of God by enlivening the hearts of the lost to new life in him: “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).
As you faithfully fulfill God’s call on your life into his mission, remember that God has given you the Spirit, who works to send, sustain, and complete the work that God has called you to do in ministry. You are not alone. As isolating as missions work can feel, you have a comforter, support, and ally in God who is on-mission with you, even to the ends of the earth.
ABWE exists to fulfill the Great Commission by multiplying leaders, churches, and missions movements among every people.