Every overseas missionary seeks to emulate the supernatural lifestyle that characterized the ministry of Jesus. We want our lives to matter for eternity. We want to see whole communities come to Christ. We want our outreach to be infused with strategy, relevance, and Kingdom power.

But the world has changed dramatically in the last 2,000 years. The 21st century missionary venture requires a certain intentionality toward creative outreach styles while still operating in supernatural Kingdom power. Today’s cross-cultural ministry style includes numerous aspects that differ quite starkly from the first century ministry of Jesus. It’s not that all our methods are incorrect or inappropriate (admittedly, some are!) but I do think it suitable to highlight some of the differences and encourage Kingdom perspective in global missions.

So here is a whimsical look at 7 things missionaries do that Jesus never did!

1. Foreign language learning

Crossing cultures and learning a new language can be incredibly taxing. The sights, the sounds, and the situations that an overseas missionary is confronted with can seem daunting. On top of that, almost everything a missionary encounters is veiled in the strange articulations of a foreign language. The key to understanding culture is discovered through language acquisition. So stick at it! Keep on with your foreign language learning and make Jesus famous among the people you serve.

It is generally agreed by historians that Jesus and his disciples primarily spoke Aramaic (Jewish Palestinian Aramaic), the common language of Judea in the first century AD. He had no need to spend extracurricular time learning a foreign language. He did, however, mingle cross-culturally with individuals of different ethnicities. A broader picture reveals that Jesus left His heavenly home for an earthly dwelling to become the paramount model of incarnational ministry.

Overseas ministers would do well to emulate Jesus’s missions model of demonstrating Kingdom values across multiple cultures while giving priority to learning the language and culture of the local setting.

Girl Speaks Gibberish With Perfect Accents To Show What Languages Sound Like To Foreigners
You Can Learn Any Language, Even If It’s One Of The World’s Hardest [INFOGRAPHIC]
Every Missionary Should Go a Year Without English: Mandarin in 3.5 Months (12 Minute Documentary)

2. Send missionary newsletters

Ugh, it’s time to write that newsletter again. Every missionary’s favorite time of the month—NOT! Still, missionaries are generally expected to update churches and supporters back home and with today’s technology, this has (theoretically) become much easier.

I suggest a few pointers when writing your missionary updates, 1. Tell stories: people resonate with real-life transformation and the humanity of the missions venture; 2. Keep it short: people are busy. A quick update (including links to longer blogs) can be a powerful medium; 3. Automation! Use Mailchimp (or a similar emailing program) to automate your updates. Make sure you link all your social media outlets to post at the same time. Blast Facebook, Twitter, etc, with your update every time you send it. 4. Keep the main thing the main thing. In other words, if you’re looking for volunteers, analyze the feedback you receive and track whether or not people are volunteering. Looking for new donors or church partners? Follow up and make it personal. I also suggest The God Ask for all your fundraising needs.

Jesus was a storyteller. He created intrigue via parabolic narrative. He didn’t have a massive email list but He did have a massive following. He didn’t overwhelm people with boring details and theoretical practice. He focused on establishing the Kingdom of God on earth, challenging people to join Him in giving glory to the Father. I think that’s a great focal point: do what you’ve been called to do and invite others to join God’s epic redemptive narrative. Be a storyteller like Jesus. Your email list might actually increase and people may just want to join the ministry that you’re engaged in.

Great articles about support raising and sending newsletters from Support Raising Solutions
Get the Within Reach Global newsletter sent directly to your inbox
10 Steps to Writing a Memorable Missionary Newsletter

3. Coffee shop discipleship

Believe it or not, Jesus never tasted coffee. I know, I know, it seems sacrilegious to even mention this reality. Legend has it that an Ethiopian man named Kaldi discovered the effects of coffee over 900 years after Jesus lived on earth.

Times have changed. Today’s missionaries are engaged in all sorts of missional outreach and particularly in urban centers, coffee shop discipleship is a powerful approach for the discipleship process. Of course, you don’t have to be a coffee lover to do discipleship (this is what I’ve been told. Still, I’m not sure the reality of this theory!). Gather your group of “Timothys” in a tea house, coffee shop, or recreational center—it all works as long as you focus on building relationships. Connections made around a meal or beverage naturally flower into a deeper outreach.

That’s what Jesus was all about: relational ministry. It was an odd occasion when He was not being thronged by masses of people during His three-year ministry on earth. He sowed His life into 12 men and through them transformed the world. His medium may not have been the coffee shop but He was creative in His outreach approach. Overseas missionaries are called to imitate Jesus in this relational lifestyle.

Taking Discipleship Out of the Coffee Shop (but don’t abandon the coffee shop completely)

4. Skype home to family

Gone are the days when missionaries pack their belongings in a coffin, expecting to die on the mission field where they serve. These days it’s easy to connect with family and friends back home. There are, of course, ups and downs to this new reality. Exit strategies have become easier and it can be difficult to focus on cross-cultural ministry when there are so many tech distractions.

If you were wondering, Jesus never had to deal with this. He did, however, have a direct line to His Heavenly Father and He dialed in regularly. I think therein lies a powerful secret for cross-cultural missionaries: you have 24/7 access to God the Father. He’s always ready to take your call and refuel your weary missional soul. Jesus found strength for His ministry by sneaking away from the crowds and secretly communing with God in a garden.

Sure, it’s totally fine (and healthy) to connect with friends and family back home. I believe in utilizing modern technology to impact ministry efforts in a positive way. In fact, I suggest weekly or bi-weekly Skype meetings with a mentor or pastor back home. Also, a personal connection with individuals who are sowing into your ministry is paramount. But I would encourage overseas missionaries not to default to technology as a crutch. The grass is greener, it seems, on the other side of the planet—back home where your loved ones are. But you have a holy calling to extend the Kingdom of God to places where many will not go. So focus on the task at hand while leaving ample room to dial in to your Heavenly Father. More than anything else, you must understand His heart for the nations and His deep care and concern for you as His witness.

Interesting article: How Skype Is Improving Missionary Communications
12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You (book)
Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships

5. English corner outreach

In today’s globalized world, overseas missionaries have been forced to rethink missions strategies. Effective outreach styles have emerged, one of which is using the English language as a ministry medium. At Within Reach Global, our team of missionaries hosts 4 English corners on college campuses every week, inviting Chinese students to join a Christian community and learn about God’s love for them. We have witnessed hundreds of salvations, baptisms, and new disciples emerge from this ministry platform.

Jesus didn’t speak English. He didn’t utilize language learning as a ministry strategy but He was highly creative in His ministry approach. He was always on the lookout for ways to display the Kingdom of God.

As the world becomes more globalized and as the needs of cultures shift, missionaries should be on the lookout to see where God is moving and what kind of creative avenues should be utilized to advance the Gospel among unreached communities. God cares about every ethnolinguistic tribe and I believe that he smiles upon unique strategies that seek to give witness to His glory in the nations.

The Bridge outreach center at Within Reach Global
How’s My English?: A Practical Guide to an Effective English Corner (Volume Book 1) on Amazon

6. Fundraising trips

I’m a huge advocate for proper fundraising efforts. Yea, it’s one of those things that missionaries have a tendency to shy away from. Either that or they feel they’re just not good at. But let’s face it, like it or not, it’s a major responsibility of every overseas missionary.

Everything at Within reach Global changed after I read The God Ask, one of the best books out there on the topic of support raising. It reminded me that raising money for missions is a relational undertaking. How we often forget this is a mystery to me.

Jesus talked about money… a lot. He ran a low-budget ministry but He still had financial supporters who provided for His and His disciples’ needs. Overseas missionaries—like Jesus—need money not only to survive but to accomplish outreach efforts among the people we are serving. Jesus regularly addressed issues of money but was still able to completely trust His Heavenly Father to provide for His needs.

If you’re a missionary, you might want to ask yourself, “If the money ran out, would I still seek to minister to those whom I am called to?” I encourage you to build your budget around your vision and not the other way around. In my early China days, soon after I arrived on the field and was often struggling financially, our band of missionaries came up with this motto: “We the unknowing and limited, led by the All-knowing and Limitless, have done so much with so little for so long that we can now do anything with nothing!”

The God Ask: A Fresh Biblical Approach to Personal Support Raising by Steve Shadrach
Support Raising Solutions is an excellent resource for fundraising ideas 

7. Fly home for the holidays

Missionary circles are highly transient communities. At scheduled intervals throughout the year, international churches are left with empty pews as missionaries return home for the holidays or set out on fundraising trips. Like it or not, this has become part of the 21st century missions system.

This massive exodus is often considered a much-needed getaway or necessary break from the difficulties of overseas ministry. There is a refreshment that comes with being home with family. But oftentimes the missionary is overwhelmed with meeting supporters, trying to raise more money, and speaking at churches and small groups. But they rarely have time to unwind, decompress, and process the things that they have experienced.

Jesus ministered in and around His hometown. He was never far from His father, mother, brothers and sisters. Still, it was mandatory that he find time to slip away from the crowds and spend time with His Heavenly Father. He also ate… a lot! Little is written about meals with family and friends (besides His disciples) but there is no doubt that Jesus found time for the simple things.

If you’re an overseas missionary preparing to go home for the holidays, remember that the deepest comfort and understanding you seek may not always be found in friends and relatives. Yes, arrange some counseling, transitional debriefing, or coaching. But never forget that your strength is found in God’s presence. He alone can sustain you and help you accomplish that which He has called you to do.

Why Missionaries Can Never Go Home Again
3 Reasons Why Cross-Cultural Missionaries Struggle to be Home for the Holidays


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David Joannes
Founder/President at Within Reach Global
David Joannes is the co-founder and president of Within Reach Global, Inc, which serves the advance of the Gospel in some of Southeast Asia’s most difficult places. He is the author of The Space Between Memories: Recollections from a 21st Century Missionary. David has a love for language, culture, and creative writing, and for the last 20 years, he has witnessed God’s Kingdom established in forgotten parts of the globe. David lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with his wife, Lorna, and their daughter, Cara.
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