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Assess Your Motives for Missions

Categories Ministry

All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord. (Proverbs 16:2)

What motivates you to do what you do for God?

If you’re in ministry or the academy it’s probably not the Benjamins!

Perhaps it’s the prestige of working for that particular university or church. Maybe it’s the title “Lead Pastor” or “Professor.” For most it’s no doubt a desire to help people and build God’s Kingdom.

Motives are a tricky thing, especially when it comes to missions. Which is why Gailyn Van Rheenen devotes an entire chapter to “Motives for Missions” in his newly revised book Missions (2nd Edition).

I found this chapter to be one of his more convicting ones. Because whether we’re serving God overseas or at home, we need to check our reasons for participating in God’s mission.

“Prayerful consideration of motives,” Van Rheenen writes, “enables people who carry the mission of God to overcome, or at least compensate for, deficient motives while also deepening the foundations of primary Christian motivations.” (107)

Again, what spurs you to participate in God’s mission, locally or globally?

Van Rheenen helps us by outlining three dominant motivating categories. Continue reading to asses your motives, asking the Lord to weigh them and change them.

Primary Motives: Reflecting God's Nature

“Primary motives of mission mirror the mind of God; they reflect his attributes and his will.” (108) These include:

  • God’s Love and Compassion: Love is what drives God to minister within human cultures. It should motivate us, too. “Missions is the loving hands of God reaching through compassionate Christian hands to release the shackled hands of the lost.” (110)
  • God’s Sovereignty Over Time: “During this in-between period, Christians are called to both prepare themselves and prepare the world for Christ’s second coming.” (111) Knowing the world will end motivates us to make disciples of people broken broken by sin and alienated from God.
  • An Outpouring of Thanksgiving to God: “Mission, in its essence, is an outpouring of thanksgiving to God for what he has done in human lives.” (111)

These motivating forces become our own when we diligently study the Word, fast and pray, and meditate on God and his message. Through these Christian disciplines, “God works in [our] lives to form primary motives and to re-form negative ones.” (108)

Secondary Motives: Preaching Christ for Humanitarian and Personal Reasons

“Many secondary motives, although neither deficient nor primary, lead people to the mission field. These motivations are usually humanitarian and personal.” (112)

  • A Desire to Help People Physically: “This response may be rooted in the compassion of God...becoming a primary motivate for Christian mission. Sometimes, however, the impulse is no different from that of philanthropists who want to improve the world.” (112)
  • A Yearning for Adventure: Missionaries are often propelled into missions because they desire to learn new languages, experience new customs and foods, and see the world. Notice the emphasis is on self, rather than others.
  • A Desire to Build a Deeper Faith: Some feel their faith is insufficient, so "they are drawn to the mission field to increase their faith and reliance on God. They view missions as a personal faith-building experience.” (113) Again, the emphasis is on self, rather than others.

Such motives cannot fully sustain us in God's mission. Van Rheenen rightly notes, "If people are to carry the mission of God, their motives must, to some degree, reflect the mind of God.” (114)

Deficient Motives: Preaching Christ for Selfish Reasons

Finally—and most convicting of all—deficient motives, which are often intermingled with primary and seconday ones:

  • Making a Name for Oneself: Paul reminds us some preach Christ ‘out of selfish ambition, not sincerely’ (Phil. 1:17).
  • Building Personal Kingdoms: Some dominate a new endeavor and establish their own rules and regulations. "In effect, they become rulers over their own kingdom.” (115)
  • Escaping from One’s Own Culture or Church Situation: [This] is both highly idealistic and selfish. The problems one is seeking to escape will likely reappear in the new culture…missionaries cannot escape the cultures that have molded their lives.” (116)
  • Reacting to Guilt: Some try to erase a familial mission failure or atone for their personal sins through missions work, believing they can make up for the past.

If you've discovered your motives for participating in God’s mission are less than primary, or even secondary, don’t fret. Van Rheenen reminds us God is able to transform those motives and still use us. He ends this chapter with a fitting prayer:

God, work on our hearts. Transform empty conceit into compassionate love. Help us taste your infinite glory and thereby partake of it. Touch our hearts with your grace so that we become like you — holy, loving, faithful. In the name of Jesus, amen.


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