The Key to the Missionary Problem

That is the title to a book I read about five years ago. Some books transcend time. This is one of those books.

The first time I read The Key to the Missionary Problem: A Passionate Call to Obedience in Action, I was riding in the back of a small van traveling around a sub-tropical island off the coast of China. Lush vegetation covered the island with a mountain range running through the middle.

Two large cities populate the island. An industrial city on the north end, and on the south end – a beachfront city rivaling any you would find in Hawaii.

Scattered throughout the island are many small towns. Most living in the towns migrated from the mainland. If you venture deeper into the rural parts of the island, you will find thousands of small villages of indigenous people.

That is why we were driving around the island. We were looking for these villages hoping that our friends who lived there could go back for follow up visits.

Hard work. Many obstacles to overcome. But someone will have to do this if the gospel is to reach them.

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?Romans 10:14 NIV

I found it surreal that I read this book about “the missionary problem” while on a mission trip surrounded by natural beauty and a people that found it strange to see a van full of white-skinned people.

This book written over 100 years ago by Andrew Murray spoke to me as if he sat next to me in that van. I felt like a student sitting at a teacher’s feet as he unfolded the key.

In this book, Andrew Murray is responding to the talks at the Ecumenical Missionary Conference held in New York in 1900. Mr. Murray had been invited by D. L. Moody to speak at the conference but wasn’t able to attend.

He lays down a scathing indictment on the church of his day that sadly could be said of us still today.

The church has not the obedience or the determination to attempt the task to proclaim the gospel within this generation to every creature. She does not seriously desire to proclaim the the gospel in every country on the face of the earth. The Christians of our day are not unitedly resolved to accomplish it.”

So what is the Key to the Missionary Problem?

The missionary problem is a personal problem

As churches and organizations we make plans and strategies, propose grand campaigns and vision statements. However, many believers lack a personal commitment to fulfill the Great Commission.

In fact, if leaders and pastors don’t have a personal commitment to this end, neither will those they propose to lead.

“Oh! If we could make this missionary problem a personal one, if we could fill the hearts of the people with a personal love for the Saviour who died for them, the indifference would disappear, and the kingdom of Christ would appear.”

The missionary problem is a lack of power

The power for missions is the Holy Spirit.

“The goal is possible in view of the achievement of the accomplishments of the first generation Christians.”

Murray also refers to the story of the Moravians’ mission passion. A people of small numbers and little material means that impacted multiple generations.

Neither the Moravians nor the first generation Christians possessed any method or power that is not available to us today.

In fact, today’s church has centuries of theology, creed, and structure from which to draw. However, just as in the day of Pentecost, none of that lasts or motivates for long without the Power of the Holy Spirit.

The missionary problem is a lack of prayer

“One great and imperative need today of foreign mission work is the almost forgotten secret of prevailing prayer. Missions have progressed so slowly abroad because piety and prayer have been so shallow at home.”

Sadly, we “at home” rarely gather to pray or receive the appeal by leadership to pray for the efforts around the world.

The missionary problem is that the church doesn’t understand it’s identity

Missions has to be the chief end of the church.

It’s not enough for missions to be relegated to a separate silo alongside many other programs in the church. It has to be the pulse, the heartbeat, the very reason the church exists.

If we misunderstand this, we misunderstand our identity.


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I am a longtime Austinite. Married my beautiful wife over 25 years ago. Adopted our son September 2012. Currently a writer and loving it. Previous jobs and careers include project management, missionary, and pastor. I enjoy sports (both watching and playing), traveling, reading, digging in dirt and hanging with my friends and family.

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2 thoughts on “The Key to the Missionary Problem

  1. “If we misunderstand this, we misunderstand our identity.” This is all so good. Thanks so much, Kenny. Can’t wait for the interview!