There is often a disconnect between what groups mean with they use the terms 'missions', 'mission work', and 'missionary.'
For some, the activity is narrowly defined by an evangelistic outreach where emphasis on preaching, crisis salvation, and witnessing on streets, in bars, and in other rough areas. Still others view it as going into a socially, economically, or culturally different environment to bring them salvation, to bring them Biblical teaching and to be involved in the elevation of the society through the gospel.
For some, the activity is narrowly defined as the political, social, and cultural outreach where emphasis is on improving the quality of life, improving medical standards, and expanding the ability of a people to be self-sustaining. Still others view it as revolutionary assistance to change, by force, the negative processes of a political or economic system.
Who is right? The truly be reflective of the Biblical concept of mission work requires there be more depth to how we envision mission work.
Centuries of the Western Church sending missionaries to 'save the heathen' also tended to reflect a paternalistic attitude. The unspoken message was also sometimes racist. How, after all, could the pagan ever be supervisors of the work in their countries? This messiah-like and paternalistic attitude tended to influence all mission work from the 1700's and in some groups continues to this day.
Take responses to catastrophe in recent times. We go to Central or South American, we go to Haiti and preach but do we roll up our sleeves and help in the rebuilding? Do we take medical groups along to provide needed medical assistance as we witness of God's love through actions and words? Do we go to feed, clothe, and care for the unloved and share the Gospel in our actions and not just our words?
What of our everyday opportunities just down the street? The Infant Crisis Center, the Homeless Shelter, the Literacy Project, the Jobs Program, the Meals on Wheels, the Homebound Visitor Program, the Big Brother or Big Sister and so much more. Are we being 'light' in the darkness of our own local backyards?
It is always easy to sweep in someplace with a superhero cape flapping the breeze behind you, looking important, feeling sanctimonious, and yet do nothing purposeful or meaningful to really be the hands and heart of Christ to those in need.
Sometimes it is good to reflect and in reflection redefine what we mean by 'mission work.' Mission work is merely discipleship beyond our comfort zone, it is sharing the gospel and then empowering individuals to assume their roles as evangelists into their world. To do more is to create co-dependent ministry rather than wide spread redemption.