Learning From The History of Missions

Some wish to live within the sound of church and chapel bell. I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell!

Extracting Wisdom and Purpose From the History of Missions

As we examine missions through the ages, we’re given a rich understanding of why missions are central to the Christian faith. Listening to the stories and seeing evolving patterns in movements shows us how to grow in humility and courage born of faith. It fills us with a fresh sense of purpose and love for Jesus. 

Let’s take a look at some of the most significant mission movements that contribute to today’s progress, as well as current challenges. 


  1. The Early Church: In the first few centuries after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the disciples and other believers worked tirelessly to spread the Gospel throughout the known world. They were responding  to Jesus’s command to “go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). If they didn’t go, no one would ever hear! They faced diverse obstacles, including persecution and opposition from religious and political leaders. Nevertheless, the efforts of these few were instrumental in the growth and expansion of the early Church, laying a foundation of faith and setting an example for fearlessly following Jesus, no matter the cost. 

    Most of the disciples were eventually killed for their testimony, but this did nothing to stop the rapid spread of hope in Jesus. Paul summed up their zeal in Romans 15:20-21, saying, “My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else. I have been following the plan spoken of in the Scriptures, where it says, “Those who have never been told about him will see, and those who have never heard of him will understand.” These believers’ love for Jesus was so vividly reflected in their lives. The early church didn’t just support a missions movement; they were the missions movement, vividly reflecting Christ’s relentless love.

Find out more about the different ways you can join in missions using your talents.

  1. The Monastic Movement: In the fourth century, the ruler Constantine ended the intense persecution Christians faced throughout Europe, popularizing Christianity and simultaneously resulting in a far less radical church. The masses, many of them apathetic, joining a now formal institution, shifted the role of missions from being the responsibility of every believer to being relegated to official church leaders. This shift ushered in the monastic movement, which emphasized the importance of evangelism and missions. Many monks and nuns dedicated their lives to spreading the Gospel in various parts of the world. This formalized the role of professional “missionary” but reduced the idea of mission responsibility for every Christian. 

  2. The Age of Exploration: During the Age of Exploration, which began in the fifteenth century, European explorers and missionaries traveled to the Americas, Asia, and Africa, bringing the story of Jesus to many new peoples and cultures. During this period, many of the problematic elements of colonialism sometimes mingled with the presentation of the gospel message. We still see some of the effects of this today. Often the redemption of every tribe and tongue became lost in attempts to change culture and language to emulate that of colonizers. 

    In such instances, Christians didn’t just present the Good News–they also perpetuated their own culture with oppressing emphasis and superiority. There were, of course, exceptions to this. But this era demonstrated the critical importance of developing a theology of missions rooted in the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, cultivating Jesus’s kindness and humility. Future missions movements would later learn to emphasize Christ’s message and display His character while advocating for the redemption story of each unique culture and language.

  3. The Great Awakenings: The Great Awakenings were a series of religious revivals in Europe and North America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These revivals sparked a renewed interest in missions, as many Christians were convicted of their need to share the Gospel with people who had not yet heard it. This led to a wave of mission outreach, both domestically and globally. 

    The revival also had a significant impact on the way that missions were approached and carried out.

    Missionaries were now seen as “ambassadors for Christ” and were encouraged to live among the people they were trying to reach, learn their language, and understand their culture. This approach was a departure from the traditional approach to missions, which had often been characterized by cultural imperialism and a lack of respect for local cultures and beliefs. The Great Awakenings also emphasized the importance of holistic mission work, including not only the proclamation of the Gospel, but also social and economic development, education, and medical care.

  4. The Modern Missions Movement:
    In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the modern missions movement emerged with a far more comprehensive set of resources for translation, travel, and researching unreached regions. Increasing global interconnectedness has expanded the capacity for impact and enabled far more partnerships supporting indigenous leadership in emerging churches. Global networks of communication have also helped the church better adapt Christian teachings and practices to fit the culture and needs of the local people. Today, more than ever, we are seeing people around the world lift their voices in their local, or “heart language” to worship Jesus for His redemptive work in their lives!

    Extensive data now available also allows us to envision more perfectly, how to reach every tribe, language, and people group with the gospel message. This data can fuel our prayers, motivate giving, and better inform going. More than ever, there are countless ways believers can engage in creative avenues for involvement, showing Christ’s love. By supporting translation work, accomplished through partnerships like those  Guidelines has, any Christian  can help disciple new believers, encourage the persecuted, and reach the unreached in some of the most gospel-remote places on the planet. 


Our Mission Today

For 2,000 years, this story has been bringing people into the love and hope of God. Our mission today is sharing the same powerful message, on a mission just as urgent, in the name of Jesus, who is infinitely worthy! Current statistics show that 42% of the planet still hasn’t heard the message of Jesus. Based on the dearth of resources translated into their languages and the number of Christians in these regions, these people likely have no way of hearing about Jesus in their lifetime unless we “go”.  In the words of Keith Green, “This generation of Christians is responsible for this generation of souls on the earth!”

Today you can “go” through championing missions from anywhere in the world. You can be part of this God-given mission of hope until Jesus has been proclaimed to every tribe and every tongue. Adopt a language to support bringing biblical teaching and audio messages of hope to the most gospel-remote places on the planet. 


Sign up today to join a modern mission movement making Jesus known!

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