Churchin’ up Missions

Posted: October 27, 2015 in Blog, Pastor's Corner
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When considering missions and missionary endeavors, I have an initial bit of advice—Don’t church it up! You know what I mean. Don’t cover it up with churchy high-gloss-holy-speak-varnish. Don’t give it a business hair cut, slap a suit & tie on it, adding the protective pastoral shellac they handout at seminaries. Placing missions in a safe, neat, and sanitized category is a major fail. If anyone has watched Joe Dirt, or been around church very long, you know what I mean. Don’t church up missions.

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When thinking about missions, missionaries, missional living, and any other adverbial/adjectival descriptors, we need to think biblically; thereby effectively removing much of what churchianity has placed upon the missions enterprise. It is also important to think about it realistically. Keeping from unduly romanticizing, simplifying, or institutionalizing this hefty endeavor.

Missions, missional living, and the missionary’s call are what the bride of Jesus Christ has always been about, and will be until He returns in glory. This work is messy. It is hard. But it is glorious, even in dying. The missionary endeavor can be described in Matthew 28:18-20. This passage is often called the Great Commission (GC hereafter), which has a simple yet multifaceted depth of action.

Missions, through an overly simplistic reading of the GC, has been boiled down to simplistic gospel proclaiming. This oversimplification makes the mission of the church merely evangelism. Or better yet, enter the room, turn on the light, and exit with a sense of accomplishment. As missions professor David Sills puts it, “The task of the Great Commission cannot be compared to running through a large darkened building, flipping on a few switches and announcing that they now have light… We have unintentionally created the erroneous perception that missions equals reaching the unreached. If one’s efforts consist of flipping on light switches and then hurrying to the next darkened room, that is not the Great Commission; it’s only half of what we have been commanded to do…”

Conversely, an effort to correct the afore mentioned error has led to defining missions according to a social-gospel of Christian-ey activity—e.g., handing out water at the park, filling parking meters for strangers, randomly paying grocery bills, or raking lawns in your neighborhood. All in the name of Jesus while his name is never uttered and no gospel is ever proclaimed. Through services like this, people feel justified in their deeds, as well as missional in their lives.

While this might seem harsh, this critique is not a call to eliminate the labors of love. A knee-jerk reaction against a particular error often creates another error. Just take a look a church history and one will find that reactions like this aren’t uncommon, and mostly detrimental for the church. Christians need to realize that missions is greater than humanitarian aid, and greater than mere gospel proclamation. We desperately need to be the hands and feet of Jesus, but we are also to be his mouth as well.

Reaching the unreached only through evangelism or philanthropic efforts fails to adequately fulfill missions. Evangelism is the sharing of the gospel, benevolence ministry is caring for the physical needs of our fellow man, while missions is the endeavor of planting the gospel among the people of a particular nation. “The task of missions is not simply to reach the unreached, allowing every missionary to define what that means for himself: it is the reaching the lost and teaching them to obey all that Christ has commanded.” —David Sills

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