Missionary Motivations :: Gospel Fellowship Association Missions

Missionary Motivations

Alan Patterson
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Like all believers, missionaries have various motives for what they do in serving the Lord. As we consider some of the most excellent motives that have stirred missionary hearts in the past, we want to be open and prepared to having our own hearts convicted and our lives propelled to honorable, fervent, and joyful missionary service.

Affection for Christ

The foundational motive for all missionary work is a passion for Jesus Christ. Oswald Chambers writes: “Any work for God that has less than a passion for Jesus Christ as its motive will end in crushing heartbreak and discouragement.”1 Thus, discouragement is a red flag, directing us to assess our love for Christ. David Livingstone explored and opened up new territory for the Gospel, but often preceding him were traders and hunters. Think seriously about Livingstone’s question: “Can the love of Christ not carry the missionary where the slave trade carries the trader.”2 We tend to be hesitant about difficult and dangerous fields, but to our shame, the trader with his affection for money has often preceded us.  Robert Speer, a leader in the Student Volunteer Movement, observes this about making known our message: “How good a man’s God really is will be shown by the man’s eagerness to make Him known to all the world.”3 Are we more eager to make Christ known than the slave trader was to get his slaves, the hunter to get his lion’s skin or ivory, or Coca-Cola to sell its products?

Pain at the thought of those with no knowledge of the Gospel

Sarah Boardman Judson served as a missionary to Burma with her first husband, George Boardman. After Boardman’s death, Sarah became Adoniram Judson’s second wife. She described the burden that sent her and George to Burma: “While I have this day had the privilege of worshipping the true God in solemnity, I have been pained by the thoughts of those who have never heard the sound of the Gospel. When will the time come that the poor heathen … shall own the living and true God? Dear Savior, haste to spread the knowledge of thy dying love to earth’s remotest bounds.”4 Have you ever prayed with that “pain” and plea in your heart?  William Carey phrased the issue this way: “The thought of a fellow creature perishing forever should rouse all our activity and engage all our powers.”5 This scriptural thought is difficult to grasp and rightly taken to heart is nearly unbearable.  Here is the test: How much of our activity and power has this truth aroused and engaged?

Having a life of eternal significance

What in this short life truly counts for eternity? Is it winning the Super Bowl? Is it becoming President of the United States? Is it being as popular as the Beatles or Taylor Swift? Is it being a multibillionaire like Elon Musk? Is it winning a lottery fortune? Is it satisfying lust and perversity? Multitudes seem to believe these things will satisfy. They are gravely mistaken. Missionary pilot and martyr, Nate Saint, gives the accurate perspective: “People who do not know the Lord ask why in the world we waste our lives as missionaries. They forget that they too are expending their lives … and when the bubble has burst, they will have nothing of eternal significance to show for the years they have wasted.”6

“Why should you not go?”

This was the question put to college students by the Student Volunteer Movement, a surge of missionary interest and commitment among university students from around 1886 until the 1920s. Dwight Moody had begun to hold summer meetings for college students at his Northfield home and conference center.  For the first couple years the numbers were small and the enthusiasm for serving the Lord only a spark.  But in 1886 that changed. Robert Wilder and other leaders among the students were greatly burdened for college students to commit to becoming missionaries. Wilder urged that the 251 college students gathered at Northfield be challenged to pledge in writing that “We are willing and desirous, God permitting, to become foreign missionaries.”7 As part of the challenge to these students, the question was put to them: “Why should you not go?”8 The result of the serious praying and direct challenges for commitment was 100 of the 251 pledging to “go.” The same question pertains today: “Why should you not go?”

“Motives sufficient and more than sufficient”

William Carey had faced the same issue over a century before, and like the 100, he determined to go.  His example is so powerful and came at a time of such missionary indifference that he is rightly labeled the “father of modern missions.” An inconsequential man in his upbringing and station in society, Carey was a giant in exemplifying proper missionary motives. His three motives have captured my heart, for they beautifully summarize the right attitude toward missionary service. These motives include:

  • The worth of souls
  • The pleasure of the work itself
  • The increase of the Redeemer’s Kingdom

Carey says these “are with me motives sufficient, and more than sufficient to determine me to die in the work, that I have undertaken.”9 Indeed, these motives alone are more than sufficient for any believer to both live and die in missionary work. What is your valuation of an eternal soul? Would you find pleasure in preaching the Gospel and discipling believers in a foreign land? Do you desire above all other results from your life the increase of the Redeemer’s Kingdom? If Carey’s motives resonate with you, it may be that God is calling you to live and die in missionary work. Are you willing? Desirous?



1 Oswald Chambers, So Send I You (London: Marshall, Morgan, and Scott, 1959), 161.
2 W. Garden Blaikie, The Personal Life of David Livingstone (Westwood, New Jersey: Barbour and Company, 1986), 168.
3 Robert E. Speer, Christianity and the Nations (Grand Rapids: Fleming H Revell, 1910), 31.

4 Rosalie Hall Hunt, Bless God and Take Courage: The Judson History and Legacy (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 2005), 323-324.
5 Terry G. Carter, ed., The Journal and Selected Letters of William Carey (Macon, Georgia: Smyth and Helwys, 2000), 72.
6 Scott Moreau, Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B McGee, Introducing World Missions, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2015), 158.
7 Sherwood Eddy, Pathfinders of the World Missionary Crusade (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1945), 43.
8 Ibid.
9 Carter, 69.