One of the key factors that will influence the efficacy of a mission is the motivation behind it. Mission in general and foreign mission in particular often requires the expenditure of great effort; both personal and corporate. To produce and sustain the level of effort great resolve is needed. If the effort is to be rewarded by God then the motivation must be of high quality as well as high quantity. This brief paper will examine some of the issues relating to the motivation of mission.
It is lamentably the case that much missionary endeavor in the last five hundred years has been poorly motivated. Perhaps it may be fairer to state that during the last half a millennia much impurity of motive has been cloaked in the missionary endeavor. The most notable and lasting impression of Christian mission has been colonialism. Entire continents have been subjugated and plundered under the guise of enlightenment. Whilst we may have satisfied ourselves that we no longer act under that auspice the suspicion still lingers amongst those that experienced the colonial assault.
Perhaps one of the reasons that the suspicion of colonialism has lingered is that in many ways it has; remained albeit transformed into culturalism or commercialism. Culturalism merely expresses the motive that a target society should adopt Western norms alongside the gospel. Probably the most blatant example of this comes from the United States that often promotes democracy and feminism alongside the Word of God. Commercialism is similar except it is generally the standard of living of the target country that is considered in need of an upgrade. Of course some forms of commercial motivation may be genuine greed; but even in the case of altruism commercial expansion is really an impurity from the perspective of Christian witness.
The other large scale missionary mis-motive is ecclesiastical colonialism. This represents the notion that the object of missionary activity is to spread a particular brand of Christianity. There are of course many other ways that an individual may be wrongly motivated. Examples are wanderlust, a sense of adventure, curiosity and a yearning for the exotic. They can generally be characterized as the missionary performing the activity for their own benefit rather than for that of the people to whom they have been sent.
Whilst some of the largest missionary efforts have been undertaken for poor motives we should not be surprised that the most effective efforts have generally been undertaken for a collection of pure motives. These include:
The above list can be proven from scripture are really applies to all. However in the abstract few of them will sustain an individual through the hardships of mission. Ultimately the motivation for mission has to come from an inner compulsion that is caused by and sustained by the Holy Spirit. God sends whom He will send. If He has sent us then that should be ample motivation for us to go. If He has not sent us then no amount of compelling evidence will be enough to compensate for the fact that God did not require the person to go.
In summary we took a rather bleak look at much of the inspiration behind large scale western mission. Much of it boiled down to the western world's belief that the rest of the World should be like it. It was noted too that individual may be mis-motivated. We then looked at five biblical motivations for mission. Finally we noted that ultimately the motivation for mission must not come from some academic basis but must instead be a response to the direct sending of God.