Missions can be incredibly simple while at the same time be incredibly complex. It truly is as simple as “Pray, meet people, and tell them about Jesus” as my friend David H., pioneer missionary likes to say. At the same time, the intricacies of language and culture, the maneuvering through seemingly impermeable worldviews and the maze of religious variations involved in communicating Christ in cross-cultural settings are overwhelming. As a missionary educator, I highly recommend that those who pursue missions as a vocation receive as much missiological preparation as possible. BJU’s Cross-Cultural Service major provides an excellent foundation for missionary service. But many who are willing to serve will not have the opportunity to benefit from a program of formal missiological education. They can, nonetheless, reap great reward by reading good books about missions.
Good books are like good friends. They play a valuable role in your life, and it is hard to choose which ones you treasure most. I want to introduce you to several books which are at the top of my list and which have had the greatest input into my understanding of, and enthusiasm for missions.
At the top of my list is a book which has been cherished by missiologists for many decades, Roland Allen’s foundational treatise, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? Allen, a missionary to China in the late 19th century, was an Anglican priest who wrestled with the relationship between the religious structure of his tradition and the expansion of the Gospel on the mission field. His study of the Apostle Paul’s methodology develops principles that are applicable for missionaries from any background in any time period. The salient foci of his work are that Paul had confidence in the Word of God and the Spirit of God, and so should we. Our role in missions is to enable local believers to accomplish the work of the Gospel by bringing them the Word and teaching them to depend on the Spirit.
A similar theme is found in a book which highly influenced my missionary perspective at the beginning of my teaching career. Passing the Baton by Tom A. Steffen addresses the reality that while many missionaries are very adept at starting a ministry and developing a ministry, they are often unprepared to transfer their role to indigenous leadership. Steffen argues that this is not so much a question of poor philosophy, but of poor planning and ineffective strategy. Much of his book deals somewhat narrowly with his own experience among tribal people, but his essential teaching about beginning a missionary ministry with an exit strategy in view is outstanding.
Next in the list is John Piper’s work, Let the Nations Be Glad. Now in its 3rd edition, this book has proven to be a highly influential resource for communicating a basic theology of missions. To be sure, Piper’s Reformed perspective is strongly felt, but his careful and joyful overview of the Bible’s teaching on missions should be appreciated by all who long to see the peoples of the earth worshipping their Creator.
No book has shaped my understanding of New Testament missions more than the exegetical work, Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods by Eckhard J. Schnabel. Applying his considerable scholarship to understanding the times and events of the early church, Schnabel’s tome challenges me to think critically about the Apostle Paul and his central role as the paradigmatic missionary. More of an academic corrective than a motivational or practical guide to missions, this book is a must read for those who want to hone their thinking about Paul’s axiomatic ministry.
For those who want an excellent, solidly evangelical guide to missionary philosophy and strategy in one volume, Mike Barnett has edited the recently published Discovering the Mission of God, Best Missional Practices for the 21st Century. I like this book a lot. If someone asked me to recommend only one book which could provide a foundational understanding of New Testament missions, it would be this one. It’s not short, and I would not endorse every contributor, but no one book in my library covers the general subject of missions more satisfactorily than Barnett’s.
Finally, let me acquaint you with a delightful little book about interacting with other cultures. I have many books about cultural integration. For me, these are just fun to read. Though not exhaustive or erudite, Foreign to Familiar by Sarah A. Lanier is an excellent primer about how people from different cultures think. Other books on this topic are more detailed, but none are more fun to read. Even though this technically is not a missions book, it would be a great starting place for mission teams, short term missionaries, or even as a first read about culture for career personnel. It’s accessible, enlightening and enjoyable.
If you would like to interact about other helpful books about missions, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.