As the world’s economy becomes more global, many Christians have a renewed awareness of the role Christian migration and merchants have played in supporting the spread of the gospel. Starting with the refugees scattered by persecution in Acts 8:4, who were “preaching the word” as they went, Christians have helped to spread the gospel in the course of normal life, including travel or immigration.
This New Testament pattern continued with traders on the Silk Road, merchants to India, laborers to South America, and modern employees of multinational companies. For centuries Christians have spread the gospel when other factors like employment have moved them around the world.
Most of us will work a job 40 hours or so a week regardless of where we live, and most of us are going to meet our neighbors. We’ll shop in the same places over and over and get to know folks who work there. Our children will make friends at school, and we’ll get to know their parents. We’ll have lunch with coworkers or clients.
No matter where we live, our lives will have many of these same components. Imagine, then, if instead of doing those things where there might already be thousands of Christians, you did all this in a place where most people have never met a Christian or heard the gospel. What if you lived in a city that was 95 percent Muslim or 95 percent Hindu? What kind of gospel opportunities might that setting provide?
Yes, God the Holy Spirit has chosen to focus the church’s effort on training, sending, and supporting missionaries sent out “for the sake of the name.” Perhaps that’s why the Book of Acts gives only passing mention to the effect of Christian evangelism in the course of everyday travels and focuses almost exclusively on God’s work through the apostles and other missionaries sent by churches.
But just because an actor doesn’t occupy the starring role on God’s missionary stage doesn’t mean he or she has no valuable part to play. Planting your life and career in a strategic place for the sake of the gospel among the nations may be a good idea and a great support for global mission.
Pioneer Church-Planting Support
There will always be a need for supported missionaries sent out by obedient local churches. This is especially critical in pioneer areas, where the press of learning a new language in a new culture is itself a full-time pursuit. But consider how pioneer missionaries could be helped if several families of mature Christians moved to their city to work normal jobs in order to help and encourage that missionary. One of the greatest needs of pioneer missionaries is spiritual encouragement. And by definition they’re in places with few, if any, other Christians.
What if mature Christians could covenant with those missionaries and gather with them as a church? What if they began to invite missionaries into the network of relationships afforded by their jobs? What if they could provide support, help with family needs, and even encourage new believers, if language allowed? Supplying this kind of fellowship and support would be hard and costly work, but it could provide life-changing help for pioneer missionaries.
And yet, it would be a special kind of work, probably not a good fit for most working Christians.
Build on an Existing Foundation
A better plan for most Christians may be to join and support the work of an established expat (i.e., international) church. As in their home country, an established church would provide the context and framework for their Christian life. Most of us need that kind of fellowship and framework to thrive as Christians. That’s why Christ established his church (Matt. 16:18) and warns us never to forsake gathering with a local congregation (Heb. 10:25). Living overseas doesn’t change this need or erase God’s command. Certainly you need a church that uses a language you know well. For most, that probably means an expat church that speaks a language other than the local tongue.
Christ established his church (Matt. 16:18) and warns us never to forsake gathering with a local congregation (Heb. 10:25). Living overseas doesn’t change this need or erase God’s command.
If you were a part of a local congregation of expats hoping to be salt and light in its community, how might that multiply your own efforts? You might not have the time and opportunities a full-time missionary has, but not everyone is wired to be a full-time missionary. Still, most every Christian is wired to work, live, and love in the context of faithful membership in a local church. Isn’t it worth considering the possibility of living that out in a place with fewer Christians?
Whether we live in our home country or on the other side of the world, in full-time ministry or supporting ourselves with a job, God has laid the nations at our door. In many ways it has never been easier to personally reach other peoples with the gospel. May God give us boldness, wisdom, and creativity to think of ways to respond to his kindness, so that through us and our churches, even the distant islands can sing for joy (Isa. 42).
Editors’ note: This is an adapted excerpt from Andy Johnson’s new book, Missions: How the Local Church Goes Global (Crossway, 2017).