The missionary calling began with Jesus sending out his Twelve disciples, and then later the 72 disciples.
Luke 9:1 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.
Luke 10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. … 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
Then shortly before He ascended to heaven, Jesus issued His final command to the disciples:
Matthew 28:19 Therefore GO and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
According to Scripture, therefore, the primary call to missions should be to proclaim the kingdom of God with the evidence of convincing miraculous works to those who never heard.
But today the call to missions is different, often involving the use of humanitarian works to open hearts for the gospel—feeding the poor, caring for orphans, providing for the victims of natural disasters—just to name a few. These good works of course are commendable. They demonstrate the depth of God’s love in and through His people.
But in terms of missions and reaching the lost as recorded in the gospels and in Acts, such good works do not play a part if at all. Rather we see missions in the New Testament consisting principally of proclaiming the kingdom of God to those who never heard and often performing miraculous healings as undeniable evidence that Jesus is the Messiah and the Coming King.
Should this primary calling for missionaries to heal the sick and proclaim the kingdom of God on the foreign mission field be valid today as well?
We know what the answer should be. Sadly, however, many of not most missionaries will say their calling is different. Their calling is to utilize “friendship evangelism” and good social works to draw the lost to them gradually over time. Only after that will they have an opportunity to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with them. There is a definite imbalance in missions today in terms of what missionaries are “called” to do.
Yes, there are ministries of compassion which provide for the poor, the needy, and the suffering in obedience to Matthew 25. But let us not confuse this with the call to world missions—preaching the gospel to all creation and making disciples of all nations. The call in Matthew 25 is to minister to “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine”—referring to the followers of Jesus Christ, and not to those who never heard the gospel.
Jesus commands us to “heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘the kingdom of God has come near to you.’”
Traditional missions for the most part encourages us to “love those who are there with good works and tell them, ‘the kingdom of God has come near to you.’”
We would challenge those who have a call to missions to consider this seriously.