4 Questions for Deciphering Good Missiology Texts from Bad

I love to read about missions, but I don’t always love what I read. There are four questions that I’ve been asking lately to help me evaluate the books and ideas I’m encountering. These four questions are not mine but are biblically derived and guide my thoughts as I evaluate any missions book, article, training, method, tool, cultural principle, or biography.

Question 1: Who Gets the Glory?

The Bible is clear that God loves to orchestrate events so that only he can receive the glory for what takes place. God guards his fame. “God chose what is low and despised in the world . . . so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:28–29 ESV). No account of missions activity or practice—if it is aligned with the Bible—will exalt us or anything about human effort and ingenuity. Instead, you will see God glorified through the things of God: his Spirit, his Word, the gospel, his kingdom, and even his church (1 Pet. 4:14, Ps. 119, Rom. 1:16–17, Ps. 145:11, Eph. 3:20).

In short, does that missions biography glorify Christ, or does it glorify some individual, process, trademarked method, or missions expert?

Question 2: What Power is Promoted?

The gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16–17, 1 Cor. 1:18). The apostle Paul worked hard, not at becoming a more eloquent speaker, not at perfecting methods, but at making the gospel clear (Col. 4:4). If we aren’t careful, we will teach the idea that certain methods in evangelism, discipleship, and church multiplication are the secrets that guarantee success in missions. All the power we need in missions is already available to us if we lean into the gospel. Christians and non-Christians need a growing understanding of the “mystery of Christ” (Col. 4:3). Mark it down: any missions method that truly “works” is one that makes the gospel clear.

In short, does that missions methodology promote the power of the gospel, or does it promote the power of a missions expert, adherence to a particular script, or a step-by-step process as the key to success in missions?

Question 3: Is Human Dignity Protected?

One tragic result of sin is that our special distinction as image bearers among God’s creation was seriously damaged. No longer living to glorify God, we began to glorify ourselves and all our relationships suffered. Jesus’s work restores the ability to image God for all who believe (2 Cor. 3:18). This is the invitation inherent in the gospel.

Healing and justice ministries do important work, but if we stop there we fail to offer true dignity: the offer to become children of God, born of his Spirit, restored to majestic and divine grandeur (Luke 12:8). There is no greater honor than this. Christians are sons and daughters of God, becoming like Jesus. Their identity is found in their connection to the Son of God, not their connection to any missionary or any missionary’s ministry. They, like us, need simply to follow Jesus.

In short, does that missions ministry assign value to believers based on their connection to Jesus or based upon their level of participation with the missionary in the ministry?

Question 4: What is Being Multiplied?

We see this pattern in the Bible: ministers proclaimed the gospel, taught those who believed, and formed them into local churches with local leadership. Paul’s apostolic ministry was marked by this; he was appointed a minister of the gospel (Col. 1:23) and the church (Col. 1:24–25). No New Testament minister separated gospel ministry from church ministry, and we should not either. After all, God creates and sustains the church through the gospel.

In missions, we should labor so that healthy churches are multiplied—and not anything less than healthy churches, such as groups of detached disciples, for example. It is Christ’s Bride, God’s church that will one day stand before her husband and maker and be joined to him forever.

In short, does the strategy multiply healthy churches, or does it multiply groups or detached disciples?

We can be thankful to God for this amazing period in Christian missions. We ought to be amazed and glad for the work God is doing in the world, for the opportunity to hear about his work, and for the men and women who labor for the gospel. Let’s also be thankful that God gave us the Bible, his Spirit, healthy local churches, and good questions that help us evaluate all we read and study about missions. As missions activities increase, so may our efforts faithfully abound to the glory of God, to the increase of the gospel and to the spread of the church.

Ken Caruthers and his family served among Muslims in Turkey and led twenty-six church planting teams in five countries. He currently lives in Richmond, Virginia, where he serves as the associate vice president of training for the International Mission Board.