Missions Is Not a Prison Sentence

True Christian ministry is not defined by suffering or servitude but by our glorious position in Christ.

Suffering is part of the Christian life.

Christ told his disciples that in this world, they would face troubles (John 16:33), and that remains true today.

Missionaries are certainly not the only Christians who experience suffering, but, due to the inherent difficulties of serving God around the world, it can be easy to fall into the trap of associating missions work with being sentenced to the “hard labor” of Christianity. We may be tempted to imagine that Christians in Western countries are enjoying tea and crumpets while missionaries are out on the fringes, eating bugs, and surviving on lukewarm instant coffee.

We must remember that real Christian service is not defined by a vow of poverty or by oppression. There is a significant difference between serving God as a slave and serving him as one of his own children. We aren’t called to serve out of mere duty, and our ministry should not seem like drudgery. Because we are fellow sons and daughters of God, we partake in the inheritance of the Messiah. Therefore, our service to the Father should not be based on a spirit of slavery, but rather on a spirit of glorious adoption.

All those led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children, also heirs— heirs of God and coheirs with Christ– seeing that we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:14-18 CSB)

Make no mistake: we will certainly experience suffering during our time of service. The prosperity gospel, which suggests that God never desires for you to suffer and only plans for you to have health and wealth, is neither true nor the gospel. But in our service to Christ, we will not suffer alone as a slave under an oppressive burden. We will suffer as a coheir of glory with Christ Jesus.

At the same time, don’t be tempted to the other extreme, thinking that the only time you are truly serving the Lord is when you are suffering. That’s not what this passage teaches. Not all service is suffering, and not all suffering is service. Most often, I’ve found that working in ministry for Christ is a pleasure. But when do we suffer in his service, we know that we do not suffer alone; he is always with us. And the suffering we will experience can’t compare to God’s glory that we will see in the end.

So do not despair if you are suffering in ministry; our work is not in vain because the glorious result will be revealed to us before the end of all things. Even now, in this life we can experience a small glimpse of this glory as we are made sons and daughters—and Christ has promised that he will build his church, ever increasing the number of sons and daughters adopted into his family.

Let us therefore avoid the mentality that missionary work is the slavery of Christian service. All believers are adopted children of God and have a role to play in the Father’s plan to redeem the nations. Let us serve the Lord with joy, knowing that we will see the glory which will revealed at his return.

Andrew Paul Ward

Andrew Paul Ward is an ABWE missionary to Togo, West Africa, sent from Grace Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Andrew is the husband of Mary, father to Emmanuel, Cyrus, and Alethia. He holds a B.S. from Bob Jones University, an M.Div. from Temple Baptist Seminary, and an Ed.D. from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Support Andrew’s ministry.