A lot of Christians are surprised when folks outside of the church have an unfavorable opinion of Christian missions. They'll be in a casual conversation with a non-Christian colleague when the subject of missionaries comes up, and the discussion takes a negative turn.
The other person might bring up colonization and the way that Christian missions have been used to westernize foreign countries. The topic could also become an opportunity for them to criticize short-term missions for not doing any long-term good. You may even recognize some truth in their criticism.
In the end, you might end up tongue-tied as they inform you that mission work does more harm than good. But rest assured, the world does benefit from mission work. Here are a few ways that missions bless the world—beyond introducing people to the life-changing power of the gospel (which is really the goal).
1. Missions raise awareness for global problems
There's no question that Christians in western countries can be a little sheltered from the trials and tragedies common to people all over the world. Mission work is a great way for churches to grow in their empathy and understanding of these global issues. Churches with a strong missions emphasis are often prayerfully aware of the struggles occurring in the places where they minister.
This is also a profound benefit of short-term missions. Even if a youth group doesn't contribute much more than adding a new coat of paint on an orphanage in Mexico, they still end up with a deeper connection to the experiences of the people they served and their identity as part of a global kingdom. And they bring this awareness home with them.
2. Missions provide solutions to real-life dilemmas
Few mission organizations ignore the fixable challenges that they encounter in the places they minister. Whether it's raising money to dig wells in water-starved countries or providing micro-loans to third-world entrepreneurs, Christians have been on the front lines in finding creative ways to love and serve people in places where they share the gospel.
3. Missions confront troublesome cultural behaviors
In the past, mission organizations have damaged cultures by expecting them to adopt western viewpoints and habits. But now more than ever before, mission organizations spend a lot of time training new missionaries not to trample on cultural identities.
That said, there are places where Christianity's influence has beneficially challenged harmful cultural practices like cannibalism, female circumcision, and extreme forms of witchcraft. There are many examples where the influence conveyed by missions work has been positive for everyone involved.
Mission work isn't Eurocentric
It’s important to keep in mind that the west isn't the only place doing mission work. Missionaries are sent out from all over the world—some are even sent to the United States from other continents. The idea that missions are simply a way for westerners to spread their influence around the globe isn't entirely accurate. People from all over the world are doing amazing mission work.
There is some criticism of missions that should cause us to pause and evaluate how we interact with other cultures. No one intends to have a negative impact on the places where they minister. But it's also essential that we consider that some of that criticism is based on resistance to the real change that missionaries want to bring—and that's knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As long as the church is intent on leading people to Jesus, we're going to experience resistance. But as long as we focus on loving people while sharing the gospel with them, it will mitigate a lot of reasons for criticism.