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Missions: 12 Essential Lessons to Be Effective Locally and Globally

Categories Ministry


Meet Jim and Julie. 

While in college they went on a missions trip to Haiti and realized for the first time the brokenness and spiritual alienation of the world. They decide to do something about it, but what were they to do? 

Consider these two scenarios:

Scenario #1: Jim and Julie raise support and return to Haiti as full-time missionaries. They figure, “We taught the Haitians. We were greatly respected as Americans! We could make significance differences in peoples’ lives by leaving now to serve them full time!” They begin serving as missionaries, yet they lack crucial training: they don’t learn the language, they don’t learn the culture, they don’t learn how to develop long-term strategies with local leaders, they can’t discern the difference between Christianizing and Americanizing the people.

Scenario #2: Though Jim and Julie want to return to Haiti, they realize they know little about the gospel and how to be missionaries in their own context. They reason, “How can we teach what we only partially understand? What do we know about learning a language and culture, bringing searchers to faith, and ‘equipping God’s people for works of service’?” (16) They become missionaries in America first, and what they learn will eventually aid their work overseas.

Gailyn Van Rheenen offers these two scenarios in his newly revised book Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies. Of scenario #1 he writes, "They served as Americans who transplanted their language, culture, and message” (17) without developing the foundation and strategies to minister effectively.

Van Rheenen wants missionaries to be effective. He wrote this crucial equipping resource to help them be effective in both local and global missions, expanding upon these 12 essential lessons:

(1) Attune your heart to the Bible’s missionary narrative

In the last decade we’ve become more aware that the Bible is a grand epic describing the God on mission. Van Rheenen helps us live out the missional stories of missio Dei, kingdom of God, incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.

(2) Spiritually transform your lives into God’s likeness

We cannot “become missionaries” by our own might and power. We need to learn to rely on God, accept his sovereign reign over their lives, and be “transformed into his image.”

(3) Discern personal motivations 

What motives spur participation in God’s mission? Do they flow from the mind of God or from human desires and egos? Are they primary or secondary to the heart of God? Answering these questions are crucial for the missionary journey. 

(4) Learn from missionaries who have gone before 

Van Rheenen outlines each of six epochs of the historical expansion of Christianity, drawing insights from each of these perspectives and noting important transitions that took place during each epoch.

(5) Learn how to be cultural learners 

A missionary must cultivate “Missionary Empathy”—the missionary understands the local culture and feels the people’s struggles, triumphs, defeats, and temptations—as they enter a new culture (even within their home culture).

(6) Confront feelings of ethnocentrism 

People who live or work in cross-cultural settings interpret reality through their own cultural assumptions. They presume that their ways are superior and thus arrogantly reject new perceptions of reality. Missionaries need to address this thinking so that they might communicate to those of another culture as equals.

(7) Communicate God’s eternal message in cultural categories 

Cross-cultural communication is crucial so that missionaries may be better equipped to speak God’s eternal message in cross-cultural contexts.

(8) Minister using a four-fold process 

This process includes, theological reflection, cultural analysis, historical perspective, and strategy formation within the context of spiritual formation.

(9) Learn basic incarnational and planting principles 

Developing a strong incarnational movement of God in a new city or ethnic area requires the accomplishment of three essential tasks: planting churches, nurturing new believers, and training leaders. 

(10) Apply incarnational principles to the specific contexts 

Missionaries must be specific in the ways they incarnate the gospel in order to be gospel-effective. Van Rheenen provides two proven incarnational models for two specific contexts: Tribal Africa and North America. 

(11) Discern wise use of money

Missionaries and mission leaders should reevaluate their perceptions and practices concerning money and missions. Van Rheenen provides four possible models and alternatives: Personal Support, Indigenous models, Partnerships, and an integrated Indigenous/Partnership Model. 

(12) Determine fundamental criteria for selecting sites for missions.

Field selection encompasses three criteria: whether a people group is reached or unreached; the extent to which people are receptive or resistant to the gospel and its messengers; the leading of God as discerned by missionaries and their senders.


Van Rheenen’s goal is “to equip present and future missionaries, both domestic and foreign, with an understanding of the theological, cultural, and strategic foundations on which effective missions is based.” (17)

Next week we will look at a specific chapter to show how Missions provides a sure foundation and set of strategies for the local missionary in the Bronx and Harlem as well as the global one in Boka Haram. 

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