3We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints— 5the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel 6that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth. Col 1:3-6
There’s a popular new concept arising within the western church that is gaining traction. Like most popular concepts, it sounds good, is easy to digest and feels right. At least, it feels right on the surface. It goes like this, “Everything in the life of the believer is mission,” or, “we are all missionaries.” The terms is being ‘missional’, it’s as widely defined as it is defended and critiqued. I don’t have a doctorate in theology, but this missional ‘challenge’ challenges what I have studied about missions, and the role of the church. I think we need to be very careful.
I say, ‘new concept’ because historic Christianity as far as I have studied, has had a very definitive view and pattern toward reaching the globally unreached. When something comes along that seeks to ‘enlighten’ the church or help it ‘get back to it’s roots’, our collective hairs on the back of our neck should stand up, step back and attempt objective study. We should be additionally wary of concepts coming from the west that could be used to promote easy living and non-sacrificial service.
As early as the first century we see the disciples taking the gospels commission to their respective Judea, Samaria and ‘ends of the earth’. I’m thankful they listened, and didn’t embrace the ‘everything is mission’ mantra! If we run this concept of ‘all are missionaries’ through to it’s logical conclusion, then none are missionaries in the classic sense. There would be nothing distinct about those that respond to the call to “go and make disciples in every nation’ and those that reject it. Nobody should argue that we are all called to represent Him as His witnesses (Acts 1:8), all under joyful obligation to preach and make the good news known to our friends, co-workers and neighbors. We are to BE salt and light everywhere we live, move and have our being. This doesn’t however negate equipping and sending of missionaries through the local church! I am not willing to concede the churches collective responsibility, nor the christian privilege to engage in this noble task. If I didn’t know any better, you’d think the gospel message has successfully been given to the world, and as a church, we can now relax and enjoy life, being natural lights among those remaining at our local Starbucks.
I think one of the challenges is in regards to definition. Words seem to be changing so quickly these days, from generation to generation. Once a word loses it’s literal meaning, it takes on a life of its own, subject to cultural interpretation and usage. Its safe to say I think, that when we speak of “Missions” among modern day evangelical, we picture a myriad of social and spiritual activity. From short term trips, to soup kitchen ministry in the poor part of town, to that oddly dressed couple that comes every few years to show us slides from their ministry that looks like something out of national geographic. I’m not writing to defend the exact usage of a word, but I do think it is important to consider its original meaning, and place within God’s community up until this point in time.
The word “mission” comes from the Latin word mitto, which was derived from the Greek word apostello. This latter word means “to send” and from it we get the English word “apostle.” We won’t find the word ‘missions’ or ‘missionary’ in the bible. We will, rather see the evidence of Christs church responding to the ‘Missio Dei”, or “Mission of God.” From the first disciples obedient response, to Paul’s missionary journeys themselves, we see a the supernatural work of Kingdom expansion through those that are ‘sent out.’ There are dozens of really great definitions for ‘missions’, I don’t really have one that I subscribe to, that’s not the point. The point is that the principle of ‘sending’ is recognized among the church, and we don’t lose this function by way of redefining terms.
Consider just a few of the recorded examples we find from the first 500 yrs of the church. They had the same bible we read today, they didn’t even know about the 10/40 window!!
42 -Mark goes to Egypt
49 -Paul to modern day Turkey
52 -Thomas arrives in India
100 -First Christians reported in Monaco, Sri Lanka & Algeria
174 -First Christians reported in Austria
180 -Pantaneus preaches in India
197 -Tertullian writes Christianity has penetrated North Africa
250 -Denis is sent from Rome with 6 missionaries to Paris
300 -10% of world pop. now Chistian, Bible in 10 languages.
328 -Frumentius takes the gospel to Ethopia
397 -Ninian evangelizes Southern Picts of Scotland
432 -Patrick goes to Ireland as missionary.
499 -Persian King Kavadh fleeing country meets Christian missionaries going to Central Asia to reach Turks.
Boy I get excited reviewing the history of Christian missions! In my next few blogs I will add more examples, the middle ages would have been a whole darker if not for the obedience and ‘sending’ of the local church, even in it’s imperfect state. From the OT writers passionately declaring/praying “so that all people of the earth may know your name!” to the NT peek into heaven where, ‘every tribe, tongue, people and nation” worship around the throne, God has inspired and directed His people OUT, He has sent us on a mission. Let us not overly simplify the concept of missions. Don’t relegate it to something you necessarily ‘like’ or feels right. Sending and going requires sacrifice, doesn’t feel nice (we miss our friends and salsa!), but comes with a comforting promise from our King, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
I don’t think that I’m ‘better’ than anyone because I’m a missionary. But realize this, you and I will both stand before God on a day very soon. We will give account for the life we lived and He won’t grade on a curve. I’m convinced that those engaged in spreading His name and being a part of global missions will be rewarded, if their motivations were truly Christ centered. Those that pray, support financially, and generally elevate this great cause will be rewarded as well. Churches that prioritize sending and planting churches that do the same, have God’s interest at heart and will be blessed. Churches that embrace ‘we are all missionaries’ in an attempt to re-invent the missionary, though perhaps with good intention, are circumventing God’s command to take this message to the nations. It’s great to think and act like a missionary wherever you are, but don’t exchange this for what history has shown works, and God blesses. There are nations and cultures desperately wicked, needing to hear the message of redemption. Who will go if we are all convinced ‘missions’ is about local evangelism only? Don’t allow modern philosophy to cut the arms and feet off of the gospel pattern that, with all it’s failures, has worked! We are to spread the gospel locally AND to foreign lands that he calls us to.
In closing, one of the observations I’ve made being in Ukraine the past two years (in May), is the diversity of missionary experiences. It’s amazing how God calls individuals from all over the globe to different places for the gospel. Some have loving, caring and supporting churches back home, others have ‘went’ more than being ‘sent.’ God will make His name known. Too often I’m convinced, He has to do this despite the churches lack of mission focus. How many churches are comfortably convinced the church is a pleasure cruise, instead of a battle ship. Yet, God is God, and He finds a way to inject His passion for nations into willing hearts, regardless of their local churches lack of mission focus. I want to see more missionaries sent out, more churches connected to their missionaries and caring beyond their locality. This is healthy, and gives more energy to the missional cause. Embrace your calling to be missional if this helps you stay focused as an ambassador, just don’t forget the missionaries. If you know someone in your church that has a burden for a country, or believes God is calling them somewhere else, encourage them! Be missional by helping the church fulfill it’s mission.
“Not called!” did you say? “Not heard the call,” I think you should say. Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin. Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help. Go stand by the gates of hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father’s house and bid their brothers and sisters, and servants and masters not to come there. And then look Christ in the face, whose mercy you have professed to obey, and tell him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish his mercy to the world.” William Booth
Thanks for checking in, and for all of you that lift us up in prayer!