The Bible is full of “non-fiction” stories. In fact, approximately 60% of the Bible is narrative. And then, when we turn to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we find some of the most memorable, interesting, and well-known historical accounts of Jesus, his followers, and even his enemies.
However, those who teach the Bible, including missionaries, tend to gravitate toward the more obviously didactic portions of Scripture—and who can blame them? Books like Romans and Hebrews are glorious. Yet the gospel accounts, and particularly the narratives within, are extremely valuable for missionaries. I’m not saying that other parts of the gospel accounts or the New Testament are unimportant. I’m simply highlighting one particular portion of the New Testament—narratives in the Gospels—and I want to give several reasons why missionaries should study and teach them.
First, narratives in the Gospels are God’s revelation to us. They are not just nice stories to tell children in Sunday school, although every kid should have that blessing in his life! These narratives are God’s words for us to hear and read and understand—they’re in the Bible—and so we ought to listen carefully because of their ultimate Source. The Lord didn’t include anything in the Scriptures that is unimportant or just “filler.”
Second, narratives in the Gospels proclaim truths that make missionaries increasingly holy. These stories often testify to Christ’s greatness, and his humility. They recount Christ’s mission and magnify his worth. They highlight this world’s fallenness, and they lift up Jesus Christ and God’s kingdom that he ushers in as the answer for a broken world. They show both right and wrong ways to respond to Jesus. The missionary who slows down, meditates on these stories, and discovers (or rediscovers) these magnificent truths will see his affections for Christ increase and his growth in Christlikeness advanced. Consequently, the missionary’s personal holiness, cultivated by the study of the stories in the gospels, will lead to ministry effectiveness. Robert Murray M’Cheyne says it well: “A minister’s life is the life of his ministry. . . It is not great talents that God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God” (quote located at www.mcheyne.info).
Third, narratives in the Gospels are both gripping and Christ-exalting—a powerful combination when evangelizing the lost. Stories are often compelling to unbelievers of any culture, perhaps even more so than other genres. And God, in his providence, has given us many colorful narratives with surprising twists and potent messages. Those of us who grew up around the Bible, hearing these same stories over and over, have perhaps forgotten just how fascinating they really are. But think about a person out there among an unreached people group who has never heard the story of the raising of Jairus’ daughter, or the report of Jesus walking on the water, or the telling of the crucifixion and resurrection of the Son of Man. Those are amazing accounts of events that actually happened in history! A missionary should take advantage of the general interest in stories all over the world by learning, understanding, and teaching these enthralling, gospel-focused narratives.
Fourth, narratives in the Gospels are often retold by those who hear them. Good stories get repeated. When the story is from the Gospels, and its content and the good news it points to changes a person’s heart, that new believer won’t be able to stay silent—not only about the story, but the theology it teaches. The young Christian becomes the story-teller and the gospel proclaimer, reaching people the missionary may never know.
The narratives we find throughout the Gospels are worth studying and sharing again and again. A Bible-loving, growing, strategic missionary won’t shy away from them—for his own benefit, and the eternal good of the lost among the nations.