“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)
On one level, the Great Commission is stunningly simple. The whole church is to take the whole Gospel to the whole world. Every Christian is to be actively involved in the work of world evangelization, advancing the Kingdom of God to the farthest corners of the globe so that all may hear the life giving message that Jesus is the only way to God. Yet, as we consider the current state of the world Christian movement, that is not really our reality. Rather than a united Church that even the gates of hell cannot stand against, we see a rather strange and unbiblical dichotomy between “missionaries” and the “regular Christian”. This is evidenced by the way we talk about missions and missionaries. It is almost always, on a certain level, about “them” and “us”. We have “those missionaries out there”, and then we have “us who are in the normal local church”. The understanding is that some are called, and some are not. If you have not been called, you can and should support those who have been called. But if you have been called, then congratulations, welcome to the club, report for duty at 0800 and prepare to leave everything you know behind because you are now part of the Christian Seal Team Six and you are shipping out to Africa! Or China. Or Mexico. Or Japan. Japan is popular these days.
As a result, we have, according to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Center for the Study of Global Christianity, 127,000 missionaries from America going out into the rest of the world, 95-98% of whom go to already reached areas – places where there is already a viable, self sustaining, self perpetuating church. But we have 127,000 missionaries sent from America in 2010, don’t we? That’s a lot, right? That’s 127,000 missionaries out of approximately 81 million self professed evangelicals (just evangelicals) in America – that’s about 0.15% of evangelical Christians being directly involved in what we all agree is the great undertaking of the church. By the way, America is also the largest missionary receiving country in the world, with 32,400 missionaries from other countries (including South Korea and Japan) coming to America to evangelize this pagan nation! Does any of this sound right?
The fact is that there are a whole bunch of misconceptions that the church in general has about missions and missionaries. As I interact with churches as part of my ministry, I see these misconceptions worked out in our understanding of missions and our treatment of missionaries. For the most part, we in the church are working from ideas and attitudes towards missions, outreach and evangelism that have, shall we say, a slight variation from what the Bible describes. These paradigms have evolved throughout church history, often as stopgaps formulated in times of great need and spearheaded by great and godly men. Yet, as times and situations change, these stopgaps have become the norm, and perhaps due to a combination of rightful respect for these godly leaders and a lack of thoughtful, honest and critical analysis of the models in use, we now find ourselves in a situation where we perpetuate these approaches and the resultant attitudes towards missions and evangelism.
Take, for example, the whole concept of Missions Societies or Missions Organizations. This model of doing missions came into being at a time when the church was simply not interested in reaching the world. When William Carey presented the idea that Christians should take the Gospel to the world to a group of ministers in the late 1700s, a fellow minister told him, “Young man, sit down. If God wants to convert the heathen, He will do so without your help or mine.” And so, Carey founded a system, based in part on the monastic orders of the medieval period, that would enable him to carry out what God had placed on his heart. Now, 225 years later, we treat missions organizations as a normal part of the world Christian enterprise – they are just the way missions works – and it does work, kind of. But have we ever stopped to ask whether it makes sense that the whole economic engine of the missions enterprise is based not upon what Paul did, but upon models that were introduced at a time when the church was unwilling to look beyond its own walls? Have we ever considered whether missionaries spending up to 40% of their time on “donor care”, is the best, most efficient way to do things? Whether raising support by talking to one person after another is even the best way to fund missions? I mean, if missions is the great undertaking of the Church, if we all agree that missions is important and crucial for the advancement of God’s Kingdom on this earth, then why is support raising or more appropriately, the fear of support raising, one of the greatest hindrances for people “joining the ranks” of the worldwide missions force?
Friends, something is broken in the church. We are not fully living out our commission to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, neither are we really behaving as the ambassadors of God’s Kingdom that He has called us to be. Look at what is happening around us in our country and our world today. There’s just something missing from the whole chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation thing in 1 Pet 2:9, isn’t there? Where is the transformational powerhouse that the Redeemed Remnant is supposed to be? Where is the church that even the gates of hell cannot stand against? We will never be that while we see missions as out there in the distance, while it is about them out there and not us right here.
Getting the whole church actively engaged in missions is critical in this highly compartmentalized, increasingly relativistic culture that we find ourselves in today. From couch to cubicle, from neighborhood to nation, we as the Church must reclaim a truly Biblical understanding of God’s perspective on missions if we are to have any impact upon a world that is increasingly aggressive in its rejection of God and the Gospel. If we want to join God’s plan to have the whole church take the whole Gospel to the whole world, then we cannot afford to continue operating on the romanticized, warped and obsolete view of missions and missionaries that we have been using for the last 150 years. We cannot continue following paradigms that, while effective in a limited fashion, do not truly match the incredible reality that we are called to in the Bible.
The Bible’s view of missiology is pandemic – missions is integrated into every aspect of life. It flows into and covers all of what we do and who we are. No area of life is left untouched. It reaches the deepest recesses of our souls even as it reaches the ends of the earth. Mission is the heartbeat of God. And so it must be ours as well. The story of history, the story of the church is ultimately the story of God’s glory. Our identity as the redeemed, blood bought Kingdom of God is bound up in our missional purpose. Like Abraham, we are blessed to be a blessing. We are saved to be sent. Our theology, therefore, must be inherently missiological, just as our missiology must be deeply theological. We must move towards a pandemic missiology – an understanding of missions that so saturates our lives, as individual believers and as the Kingdom community of God, and that in turn flows out to the ends of the earth. It must be a missiology that is unafraid to engage the world with the tough issues, that does not hold missions at arm’s length, but that embraces our personal and communal role in God’s epoch spanning plan for worldwide evangelization and says, cries, begs of God, “Here am I, send me!”.
Yet how do we get there? We must begin at the foundations, with the basic beliefs we hold about missions. We start here because what we believe about missions impacts what we do in missions. I would like to propose 10 paradigm shifts with that I hope, by God’s grace, will get the conversation going as we hopefully move towards a truly pandemic missiology. Please realize that these shifts are neither new nor revolutionary. They just seem to have receded into the background in much of contemporary American evangelicalism. I urge that it is time to bring them back into the limelight.
Let us begin by considering “The Call”. When we normally consider the Church’s (or more specifically our personal) involvement in missions, one of the first things that comes to mind is “The Call”. It is that heavens parting, booming voice saying “Thou shalt go!” moment when missionaries-to-be know, they just know, that God is calling them to go. It’s that dream or vision of a country or a people and that deep emotional, spiritual pull to go and preach the Gospel to them. It could also be that dramatic divine appointment where you meet someone from a certain people group and cannot get them out of your mind because you know they and their people do not yet know Christ. It’s all about the call. And so, when missions conferences are held, very often the underlying question, the undercurrent of every message and workshop is “Is God calling you to missions?” “Will you pray, and really open up your heart, and see if God is calling you?” “Have you been called?” “Do you hear the call?” Whether it is standing up, raising your hands, dropping your keys as a sign of surrendering your life to God, the call is key.
But the thing is, the missionary call, as we commonly understand it, does not exist. It is a myth. The whole concept of the called and the uncalled among God’s people is simply not true. This is not to say there is no such thing as the missionary call, though. In Exodus 19:4-6 God is telling Moses what to tell Israel as they arrive at Sinai. “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Look at the phrasing – Israel is called a Kingdom of Priests. That means all of Israel are to be priests, not just the Levites. Now, the role of a priest is to be a mediator between man and God. But if the whole nation of Israel is called to be a Kingdom of Priests, then who are they supposed to mediate between? It is God and the rest of the world! Just like Abraham was blessed so that he would be a blessing to the nations in Genesis 12, Israel was now called to be God’s representatives to the world. Peter then transfers this mantle to the church in 1 Pet 2:9 as he describes the church, describes us as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” Do you see this? The church, the whole church, is to stand between God our King and the world, and, in Peter’s words, proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Is there anything there about the majority of people who are saved and a special subclass that is has a secondary call to declare the Gospel to the nations? No, of course not. That bring us to:
Paradigm Shift #1: All are called.
If you are a follower of Christ, if you have trusted in Christ, if you are saved by grace through faith, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, chosen from before the foundation of the world to be God’s very own, then you, O Christian, O child of the Living God, have received the missionary call. There are no exceptions.
But what about Israel’s priests, and the church’s pastors? Aren’t they a special subclass? Not quite. They receive the same call as everyone else, but are then directed to a specific context just as everyone else is. God may indeed use a vision or dream, an inclination or (as in my case) insomnia to specifically direct a person to an area of service, but it is not a separate call. It is a specific directing of their call.
By the way, the call to missions and service does not necessarily revolve around talking people into the Kingdom. Think about this: when we talk about evangelism, the first thing that most Christians will think of doing is to invite their unbelieving friend, co-worker or family member to church, in the hopes that the preacher/pastor (i.e. someone who is “called”) can skillfully talk them into believing the Gospel. And so all personal outreach efforts are geared towards having people come to church. This sometimes works, no doubt about it, but notice who has the responsibility of actually sharing the Gospel with people? The Pastor! The problem is that this is NOT their job! Eph 4:11-12 says “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…”
See the issue? The job of a pastor-teacher is to prepare the congregation, to prepare us, for works of service. To train, equip, prepare, encourage, edify, correct and if necessary, kick people into action. What are the works of service? To do evangelism. To live out our missionary call. To be God’s witnesses by being God’s people living under God’s rule. To advance God’s Kingdom in the world. To bring Him the glory that is due to His name. And who is it that is supposed to do it? Just the pastor? No! God’s people – all of God’s people.
Consider the problems of having the pastor do all the talking. Firstly, the congregation suffers spiritually if all it hears are evangelistic sermons! Second, bringing someone to church is not the extent of evangelism by a long shot. Third, and most importantly, the pastor is not the only person around who was given the Great Commission! The whole church has been given its marching orders in Matthew 28:18-20. Personally, I think most of the Church in America has settled for this “method” of evangelism because, well, we are just plain lazy. We feel that we “don’t know enough” to share the Gospel, we don’t want to rock the boat or take any major risks, so instead of accessing the abundantly rich resources available to us, learning more and trying to get better at it, we too easily pass the incredible privilege and honor that God has given us as His ambassadors on to someone else. Friends, all of us have received the missionary call. We may have been called to missions in different specific contexts, but we have all been called. It is not a question of whether you have been called, but what your specific call entails. And if you are still wondering if you have been called to missions, then consider this article your call. All are called. No exceptions.
Paradigm Shift #2: Evangelism, Outreach and Missions are the same call in different contexts.
Just as there is no divide between the called and uncalled, there is no actual divide between missions and evangelism, no dichotomy between missions and local outreach. They are the same task, just in different contexts. People say that they don’t do missions because they are not called. Have they read the Great Commission? Anyone who responds to the call of Christ, has been called to mission. As we already said, that does not necessarily mean that you pack your bags and go to Africa, but it does mean that you have been called to die. You have been called to die to self and be alive in Christ, to be His bondservant, His slave. To follow in His footsteps – to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him. Christ gave His life for the glory of God as revealed in the Gospel. Are we then expecting to do any less? Paul said that to live is Christ and to die is gain.
We have all been called to missions, it is just that we have been called to different contexts – the workplace, the school, the academy, the neighborhood, the home, the business world, the majority world (which means not the West), the unreached, and more. We are called to mission among the last, the least and the lost. Often times we do not need to look far to find them. We need to start thinking this way. We need to start viewing our world this way. Your super nice atheistic, secular, agnostic or otherwise Christ-rejecting neighbor, workmate, family member or friend is as lost as the Amazonian tribesman, perhaps even more so, since the tribesman probably believes that there is a God. Unless God specifically directs you to go somewhere else (and He might), there is your mission field. It often puzzles me why people who speak so passionately about reaching countries like Japan and China are not heavily involved in ministry to international students from those countries who are living among us.
Everything that we think and do and say needs to be filtered through the missional lens of the Great Commission. So central is this fact to the Biblical mandate for the church that one preacher has put it this way: Let me ask you three questions that will change your life. 1) Are you actively working to share Christ with someone? 2) Are you discipling someone? The third question depends on how you answered the previous two. If you said yes to both, then the question is: what can you do to do it better? If you said no to either one, then the question is: Are you sure you are a Christian? I might not go that far, but you get the idea.
Paradigm Shift #3: Missions is not about short term projects, but long term impact
Missions is not just about the “point events”. It is not just about the preaching of the Gospel or the moment of decision. Just as evangelism is so much more than the delivery of the 5 minute, pre-packaged script that is “the most important thing you will ever hear,” missions is not just about preaching the message that Jesus died for our sins to that one people group or doing that one service project.
Think about it: when God the Son came to redeem God’s people, He did not simply rend the heavens and step into our world in all His divine glory. Phil 2:7 says that the divine second Person of the Trinity emptied Himself and took on a human nature. Not only that, He came as an infant and lived life among us. He did not just turn up, die on the cross and vanish into heaven. Rather, during His years of ministry, Jesus took twelve men under His wing. He spent time with them, masterfully and strategically forming them into the seeds of a community, a people movement that, once empowered by the Holy Spirit, would become the most powerful and wide spanning agent of change the world has ever known. Jesus was not just thinking about the cross as He gathered the Twelve. He had in mind a powerful, transformative community that would take the Gospel – the very power of God for the salvation of all who believe – and run with it to the ends of the earth.
The Gospel changes lives, transforms communities, changes the course of nations, not just in eternity, but here and now. The world must see that. The Gospel must be powerfully lived out even as it is preached. And this is a process. It is not just about dropping in, doing that VBS, then leaving. It is about the people of God continually living out transformed lives and bringing the benefits of that Kingdom transformation to the world generation after generation, decade after decade, through the ages. Missions is not about short term projects, but long term impact.
So, how does doing that VBS in Mexico or teaching English classes in Japan affect social and societal transformation within that community? What is the long term impact? Can what we do to positively influence social norms, or impact local politics and government? How will what we do today impact the nations 10, 20, 50, 100 years down the line? What happens when the missions team leaves? Does life just go back to normal now that the American summer side show has left town? We need to start thinking about long term strategy. Impact that lasts. We have to do more than do trips because they are an adventure, or because we want to check off a box on our good Christian “been there, done that” list or because we are guilted into it, or even because we see a perceived need.
I am not saying that there is no value in doing specific projects or short term trips, rather that whatever specific project we undertake must never be independent of the wider scope of Kingdom ministry in that location and beyond. We need to figure out whether and how that VBS will help Kingdom advancement in that area, or whether it will hinder and further complicate existing ministry. Collaboration with existing local ministries is key. We need to think systemically and strategically, plan for the long term and strategize holistically.
Effective missions is multi-faceted, multi-disciplined, deals with multiple issues, is deeply rooted in the community. If we truly want to reach a nation and see the transformative impact of the Gospel erupt in a people movement that lasts, then we need to start figuring out how to impact that nation as a whole. How do we raise up local leaders? How do we train them? How can we empower them to be Godly change agents in their community? How can we help them deal with the underlying issues that plague their community and hinder the Gospel? We cannot do it on our own. We as the church must be the church, exploring partnerships with other believers, specialized Christian organizations who may have expertise we do not have, or who have perspectives we lack. Christ’s many-membered Body must work in unison, the eye not despising the foot nor the ear ignoring the hand. Pandemic missions must be a process focused on the big picture.
Incidentally, when we talk about the nations in a missiological context, we are not talking about political nations like America and China. Rather, when Jesus tells us to make disciples of all nations, He uses the Greek word ethne, from which we get our word ethnic. We are talking about people groups, specifically large groupings of people who have a common affinity to one another because of a shared language, culture, tradition, religion, residence, occupation, class or caste, condition or some combination thereof. For example, India not only has more than 1,600 major languages and dialects, but is further divided by religion, caste and other socio-cultural barriers. A 1991 sociological survey identified 4,635 distinct people groups – ethne – in India alone. Each face different challenges, experiences, issues of identity, and each must be approached slightly differently. The task is huge, complex and unfinished. We need to approach it strategically.
Paradigm Shift #4: Missions is about making disciple makers.
The Bible does not tell us to make disciples. Really. That is not a typo. The Bible does not tell us to make disciples. Rather, the Bible tells us to make disciples who disciple others. Look at the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20. This is Jesus’ command and commission to the Church, to you and me. These are our standing marching orders: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Do you see it? Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. That “all that I have commanded you” includes this command to make disciples as well, so what are we supposed to do? We are to make disciples of all nations and teach them to make disciples of all nations who will then make disciples of all nations. Disciples who disciple others! And this is exactly what Paul tells Timothy to do is 2 Tim 2:2 – and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. What is Paul doing here? He is telling Timothy to do the Great Commission! This is also what we have been commanded to do. Is there anything there about inviting people to church or memorizing a script? “Evangelism”, as we understand it today, as inviting people to church or the delivery of a pre-packaged 5 minute message, is, simply put, not a fully Biblical concept. The Bible has no distinction between evangelism and discipleship. It is all part of a continuous process, starting when we meet a person to the time when either they die or Christ returns. A person’s story does not end when he surrenders his life to Christ. He or she must then grow into a mature believer, one who can and will be serving and passing on everything that he has learned to someone else. Every disciple must become a disciple maker who makes disciple makers. The Great Commission calls us to multi-generational discipleship.
Our ministry must therefore be directed towards this goal. It is the nature of a Biblical disciple to be a disciple maker. If that is not our goal as we interact with the unbelieving ones around us, then something is missing from our ministry. More to the point, if we, as disciples, are not seeking to make disciples and in turn teaching them to make disciples, then something is missing from our walk. We cannot be disciples without being disciple makers. Unfortunately, that is exactly where much of the Church finds itself today. A great amount of effort is focused on getting the unbeliever to church, yet when the person does respond to the Gospel, there is surprisingly little that is done to grow them as disciple makers. “Evangelism” and “Missions” still remain, for the most part, the purview of the super-keen, extra mature, and theologically trained, while the “regular Christian” is left to attend unceasing services and small groups, never to even consider the possibility that they are to be disciple makers, let alone disciple makers who make disciple makers, apart from the occasional missions conference or missions Sunday.
This should never be. We are called to be disciples who make disciple makers.
Paradigm Shift #5: Missions is not a branch of the Church’s ministry, but all ministry is a branch of the Church’s central mission.
Missions is the primary undertaking of the church and must motivate and underpin every other ministry. There is no separation between missions and everything else. Unfortunately, that separation is all too apparent in the church today. We have already talked about how there is a false dichotomy of the called and the uncalled, but just consider how this false understanding is reinforced. Churches have missions committees who pretty much do their own thing separate from the rest of the ministry of the church. The rest of the church does not really know what they do most of the time. Sure, we have missions conferences and missions weeks and missions months once, maybe twice a year, where we talk about missions and evangelism. If missions is the primary undertaking of the church, is relegating it to a week, a month or a weekend really the way to go?
Even in our seminaries, this dualism is apparent. You have the School of Theology or the Seminary, where all the serious Bible teaching goes on, then you have the School of Missions or the School of Intercultural Studies out there somewhere, usually in a separate building. It is even possible to graduate from Seminary with maybe one overview class on world missions. For some, the only reason they take that class is because it is mandatory. Even when considering support for missionaries, most churches have the budget for the pastor, who is the “real” staff person, then you have the missionaries who are left raise their support on their own. Is that how we make missions a priority? Is that how the Church cares for those of its members who are dedicating their lives to living out the Great Commission? Why is it then that churches underpay their pastors, squabble over the color of the carpet, harm one another through gossip and jealousy? Why is it that the common view within the Asian church (and perhaps to a lesser extent, the non-Asian church as well) is that pastors (who are supposed to do everything) missionaries (who are supposed to do everything somewhere else) are supposed to be poor? I have heard relatively wealthy people speak of how keeping the pastor’s salary low helps them maintain their humility. Really? How does constantly wondering whether they will have enough to pay their bills maintain their humility? Does it help them to trust God more? Certainly it does, because in those cases, they certainly cannot trust God’s people! Is it any wonder that (especially Asian) parents despair when their progeny tell them that they want to be a pastor, or worse yet, a missionary?
Fortunately, this trend seems to be shifting. More churches, my home church included, have started supporting major chunks of missionary budgets. I have heard that a certain local church is starting to fully support missionaries as well. Pastors are being paid and treated better. Still, the fact remains that if the Great Commission is to be our great undertaking, it should be reflected in our programs as well as our pocketbooks.
Another thing is that so often, we send out missionaries who have little or no actual theological training. They do some preparation meetings, then off they go. Does that sound right to you? These men and women are supposed to be the front line influencers, some of them are the first Christians a people group meets. Do we just send them out because they have the zeal to go? Shouldn’t we be sending out our best, brightest, most well trained people?
If our undertaking of missions is to be pandemic in scope, it must be endemic in our identities and ministries. All theology is inherently missional, and all mission must be deeply theological. God Himself is a missional God. From His seeking out of Adam and Eve after the fall to the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity, God seeks out the least and the lost. When the Father sent His Son, He sent Him as a missionary. That, surely, must color our understanding of God, His purposes and designs upon man, and our identity as His children and agents in the world.
All our ministries must therefore have a missional focus and end goal. There is no separation. As we plan our ministries, we have to consider how they will have a missional impact. As we do Christian counseling, are we counseling so that those people will be helped so that they can minister to others? Are we teaching our youth to view the world with a missional lens so that they can advance the Kingdom in their generation? Do we teach our children in Sunday school that the grand overarching plan of God is to see the Gospel go to the ends of the earth, and that they are the ones commissioned to do it? How often is it in our preaching and teaching? It is something that we talk about over lunch, with our friends and families? Or is missions something that is dusted off once or twice a year and endured? Is the church the forward outpost of God’s Kingdom, the sending base, that it is supposed to be? Mission must underpin all our ministry. Mission is at the core of our purpose as the redeemed people of God. The Great Commission was Jesus’ capstone command to us. We need to treat it as such.
Paradigm Shift #6: Mission does not fit into our lives. Our lives revolve around mission.
This is closely related to our previous point. God’s missional plan is the loci around which our lives revolve, not the other way around. The common perception within the church is that missions is that extra thing that the really eager Christians do. Even for those who go on short term trips, and attend missions conferences, there is that tendency to think that missions is something we should add to our lives and Christian walks. It is almost like extra credit.
That is backwards.
If you are a follower of Christ, then God’s priorities, God’s heart, God’s plan for the world become your primary concern. You are no longer your own. You have been bought with a price. You are no longer living your life, but the life that God redeemed and gave to you. “It is no longer I who live,” Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
If the enduring and central thread throughout Biblical history, from creation to the cross and beyond, is God’s redemptive intent and action for the world, then can we really look at that and say, “Hmm, how can I adjust things to accommodate that in my life?” No. The question we should ask is “Because I am called to mission, because I belong to Christ, what should this life look like?” Mission needs to be the starting point from which we consider all that we are and do. I’m not saying that we should leave our jobs or drop everything and go to central Asia. I am saying that we need to start thinking about where we are and what we do in light of the missional call. If you are a student, then how can your choice of major contribute to the advancement of the Kingdom? If you are working, how can you use the skills and experiences you are gaining to get the Gospel out there? If you are an engineer, a doctor, a lawyer, a film maker, a teacher, whatever you do, how can you apply your specific skill-set to assist, enhance and advance the work that is happening here and all over the world? God has put you where you are for a reason. How are you leveraging your position for the Kingdom?
In light of that, writing a check just does not seem to cut it, does it?
Paradigm Shift #7: The Gospel is not only the only right way. It is the better way[i].
We often talk about the Gospel as the only thing that can save people from hell. That is true, but the Gospel offers us so much more than that. Jesus did not just save us from the wrath of God, He saved us to a right relationship with God, with each other and everything that those relationships bring. The Gospel does more than save us from hell – it opens us up to the shockingly joyous fact that there is a better reality than all that we know. Where the world can only offer vague and shallow platitudes like “everything will turn out well if you just believe”, or humanistic twaddle like “believe in yourself and you can do anything,” the Gospel gloriously connects us with a blood-forged bond to the Almighty Creator God who passionately loves His children and is for us. Where the world tells us to look out for number one, to be independent and self sufficient, the Gospel reveals not only the fact of a God who cares for us and upon whom we can always rely, but the reality of a loving, interdependent community – a place where we do not need to shoulder every burden, a family that is willing to go to sacrifice all for the sake of one another. Where the world preaches cut throat competition, the Gospel teaches humble, mutually edifying cooperation. The world tells us to chase after temporary trends and transient toys, here today and mist tomorrow. The Gospel leads us to rest in the eternal and invest in that which lasts forever. In the Gospel we have the true way and life abundant, joy immutable, peace that surpasses all understanding, perfect and perfecting contentment, love unfettered, purpose for our existence, eternal satisfaction. The world offers nothing that even comes remotely close to that. Life in the Kingdom is inherently attractive. It is the highest ideal of every major society and culture. It is what we are made for. By comparison, life outside the Kingdom is tired, faded, washed out, uninteresting, passing away. Kingdom life is not just the right and only way, it is the better way, the superior way, worth every grief, sorrow and sacrifice to pursue.
So why is so little of our Gospel presentation about that? Why do we focus only on the fact of sin and leave out the benefits of the Kingdom? I’m not saying that we should not speak about how Christ died for our sin, but that we might be missing about half of the full Gospel message. Jesus Himself said that the Kingdom is like a great treasure and a precious pearl. Should we not show people how that is indeed the case and tell them the full story?
Paradigm Shift #8: The Gospel is not just for personal salvation, but for global transformation.
The principles laid out in the Bible, the full counsel of God, has wise and ample application for the public square. Just as the faithful prophets spoke into the contemporary issues of their day, we who follow Christ do have things to say about the issues of our day. The Bible is not silent about moral and ethical issues, the role and goal of government, the administration of the law. As we are faced with a world and a society that demands increasing “tolerance” yet is increasingly intolerant of anything Biblical, now, more than ever, we as the Church must stand for what we know to be true. We cannot simply build thicker and higher walls against the assaults of the culture, neither can we continue the trend of having the Christianity found in much of the American church today, one that is increasingly content with a progressively shallower and more ignorant faith.
However, it is not enough simply to insist upon Biblical values. Secular and so called liberal Christian philosophers and activists have become quite adept at swinging the pendulum of public opinion their way. In the name of their twisted definitions of love, tolerance, modernity and so called intellectual enlightenment, they have managed to paint the church as archaic, bigoted, ignorant rubes, and themselves as victims of discrimination or paragons of the modern humanity. Make no mistake, the church is under siege.
We therefore must meet these challenges well prepared. If we are to have a truly pandemic missiology, to make disciples who make disciples wherever we find ourselves, then we must actively and critically engage the public square. Gone are the days when we can insist something is true because the Bible says so. Today, we must, as Peter instructs us in 1 Pet 3:15, be prepared to give a reason for the hope that we have. We must educate ourselves on the tough issues, think through them thoroughly and Biblically. We have to be prepared to tell the world not only that the Gospel is a better way, but why it is better. We should showcase Kingdom life in all its joyous, loving abundance, and strive to offer it to the world. There is no place in the Church for quibbles over carpets, pastoral power plays, church committee cantankerousness, green-eyed gossip, micro-empire establishment or small-minded squabbling. We are the Church, bought with the blood of Christ, called to be ambassadors to the nations, God’s very representatives to the world, a royal priesthood and a holy nation. We are called to the humility of following the Servant King and the nobility of sharing in His mission. We are given front row seats to see God work global transformation by the power of His Spirit, if we would but wholeheartedly join Him in His plans. The God of the Bible is not limited to small things. Why then should we spend our energies on things of little importance, while ignoring matters of eternal significance?
I should mention here that given my own eschatological bent, I do not think that the church will solve all of the world’s problems before Christ returns. However, the present Kingdom of God can and does bring powerful healing and transformation among the communities it touches. An environment that allows, even encourages the Church to be the Church makes such transformation and the declaration of the Gospel that brings it easier. The Church thrives and makes the most sweeping impact where it is not being hunted or shouted down. By retreating into insular holy huddles, the Church is not only abdicating its position and responsibility as Christ’s ambassadors to the nations, but giving evil the opportunity to thrive. We must therefore develop a thoughtful activism that is humble, gracious and compassionate, yet is at the same time astute, informed and unyielding in the defense and proclamation of the truth of the Gospel.
Paradigm Shift #9: Mission is a privilege, not a burden.
We have already hinted at this, but it bears stating clearly. God does not need us to execute His plans to bring all nations to Himself. The fact that He does include us is a high honor and a great privilege for us. He, the great Creator, Master and King of all things, invites us to join Him in His plans. He commissions us as His ambassadors, makes us His co-laborers. Why? Because in His grace and love, our heavenly Father wants His children to do His work with Him, to experience His heart for the nations and thereby know Him better, to have a front row seat as He transforms people, families, communities and nations. It is not a task that we must complete in order to win His favor nor a burden we are forced to carry to be saved. Being engaged in missions, locally and internationally, is God’s gift to us! It is a blessing – an invitation to the greatest adventure the world has ever known and the highest calling in all of human history!
Missions is the privilege of a chosen few. You cannot be engaged in this, cannot receive this gift of being co-laborers with God unless God first calls you to be His child! It is a gift that is unique and exclusive – for God’s people only! Yet, so often we look at missions with trepidation, reservation and fear. We are so busy being afraid of what we will lose that we so often completely miss all that we gain. We take our privileged position of sharing the message of life with someone and witnessing the miracle of a soul brought from death to life and so eagerly hand it over to our pastor or the famous evangelist. We take the opportunity that God is handing us to witness Him in action and we do whatever we can to hand it over to someone else, anyone else, because we are too attached to our puny plans for our lives. We put missionaries and martyrs on pedestals and hold them up as shining beacons of Christian sacrifice when in reality, they are simply doing what all Christians should be willing to do. We respect people like Jim Elliot, C.T. Stubbs, William Carey and Hudson Taylor, and rightly so. However, should we not also look at them and recognize that they were simply, obediently participating in the same privileged reality that is granted to any and every follower of Christ?
From a different point of view, do we honestly think that anything we could ever dream up for ourselves could even come close to the blessings that God has in store for us? Is my goodness to myself greater than God’s goodness to me, my wisdom about my life better than God’s wise plan for me and my children? Then why try to run away from His gifts? Why try to avoid the privilege? Why try to hand over the honor? Why do we treat missions like a burden, when it is our high and exclusive privilege as children of the living God?
Paradigm Shift #10: The Motivation for Mission is the Glory of God.
This is perhaps the most important paradigm shift. The ultimate motivation for mission, evangelism, outreach, whatever you want to call it as long as you do it – is the glory of God and our love to see Him glorified. We need to get this right. It is not to see the world saved, to improve life for the poor, nor is it primarily to get the Gospel to the ends of the earth. We do those things because we want God to be glorified. We labor to finish the task so that God would be rightly and fully glorified. Let me share with you a short section from the Lausanne Movement’s Cape Town Commitment.
We love God with passion for his glory. The greatest motivation for our mission is the same as that which drives the mission of God himself – that the one true living God should be known and glorified throughout his whole creation. That is God’s ultimate goal and should be our greatest joy.
‘If God desires every knee to bow to Jesus and every tongue to confess him, so should we. We should be “jealous” (as Scripture sometimes puts it) for the honour of his name — troubled when it remains unknown, hurt when it is ignored, indignant when it is blasphemed, and all the time anxious and determined that it shall be given the honour and glory which are due to it. The highest of all missionary motives is neither obedience to the Great Commission (important as that is), nor love for sinners who are alienated and perishing (strong as that incentive is, especially when we contemplate the wrath of God) but rather zeal — burning and passionate zeal — for the glory of Jesus Christ. … Before this supreme goal of the Christian mission, all unworthy motives wither and die.’
It should be our greatest grief that in our world the living God is not glorified. The living God is denied in aggressive atheism. The one true God is replaced or distorted in the practice of world religions. Our Lord Jesus Christ is abused and misrepresented in some popular cultures. And the face of the God of biblical revelation is obscured by Christian nominalism, syncretism and hypocrisy.
Loving God in the midst of a world that rejects or distorts him, calls for bold but humble witness to our God; robust but gracious defence of the truth of the gospel of Christ, God’s Son; and prayerful trust in the convicting and convincing work of his Holy Spirit. We commit ourselves to such witness, for if we claim to love God we must share God’s greatest priority, which is that his name and his Word should be exalted above all things.[ii]
That says it better than I can. Does it bother us when the world maligns Christ, when the media distorts God’s truth and slanders His Son? If an unflattering cartoon about Muhammad or a blasphemous movie can send the Muslim world into an uproar, why is it that there is nary a whimper from the church as the world blasphemes its Creator? Does it bother us? Is it our greatest grief? If not, why not? Have we checked out of the world we are to be in but not of? I’m not saying that we should take to the streets, but if we are to be truly passionate about His glory, should our voice not at least be heard?
Now here’s a bonus:
Paradigm Shift #11: Mission is to be done in community.
When we consider missions, our tendency is to immediately think about that individual who is going on the trip to Africa, that one family that is going to central Asia or the small team that is heaving out to Thailand. It is their ministry, and in the best of circumstances, we get to support them through prayer and finances. That is not the way the Bible views missions.
At the establishment of the church in Acts 2, we find a community forming, serving one another, reaching out together. We see in Acts 2:47 that this new group had “favor with all people,” which refers to the church as well as those around them. This was not just a group of believers who were insular and naval gazing. This was a missional community – looking outward and upward as God continued to grow them in this new relationship they had with Him through the blood of Christ. We find similar examples of missional communities all through the Bible. There is the initial mandate to Adam and Eve to go forth and multiply, thereby bringing the blessing of God’s creation order to the world. There is the initial call to Abraham, whose descendants were blessed to be a blessing. There is the call to Israel to be a kingdom of Priests. There is the school of prophets during the Two Kingdoms era. There are Daniel and Esther’s cohorts in the exile. Of course, we have the prime example of Jesus, His Twelve and the friends who supported them. People like Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Missionaries in community. This side of the cross, we have the church, the Chosen People, the Royal Priesthood, the Holy Nation whose task is to declare God’s goodness and glory to the world. We, the Church, are to be the ambassadors of Christ, God’s co-laborers in the mission God began before the establishment of the world. We are His missional community, the outpost of the Kingdom of Heaven. The assembly of God is also the embassy of God. We promote His interests in the world. We do it together.
That means that every person in the Church is a missionary. We need to see ourselves and each other that way. That means that we all agree to God’s missional purposes for the world, and make all efforts to figure out our place in His plans. The Great Commission takes priority in our lives as we live out the Great Commandment. That means that, when it comes to supporting specific missional undertakings, we go beyond prayer and finances. Rather than thinking about missions as “this person going there”, perhaps we should be thinking about transplanting communities. If we want to impact say, a village in India, perhaps the best option for us in the West may not be to send in a team to run a VBS, but to support a band of Indian Hindu background believers who already know the language and culture as they establish a Christ centered community in that area.
In a similar way, as we think of reaching our local communities, we do not leave it to the local evangelism team or pastor. Rather, as a community, we figure out how to best show forth the goodness and glory of God in our individual and community contexts. That could mean throwing a block party to meet the neighbors, organizing new moms in the area for play dates in order to build friendships, getting involved in the local schools, figuring out how to serve the hidden or invisible segment of the population, and many things beyond that. We need to view our local contexts with missional lenses. As we survey the streets we live upon or the neighborhood in which we reside, we have to see ourselves as part of a missional community and ask “If I was a missionary (and I am) tasked to reach this area (and I am), where would I start? What can my Christian community and I do to show forth the goodness of God and the glory of the Gospel here?” If the whole church did that, there is no doubt that there would be transformation in this nation.
So there you have it, 10 paradigm shifts (and one bonus) that I hope will spark a movement within the American church towards a pandemic missiology. I have probably raised more questions than I have answered, and if so, great. That is what I intended to do – to get us asking the hard questions, have us all wrestling with this, talking about it, arguing about it, even. Let’s dialogue. Let’s hash things out. Let’s dream together. Let’s be unapologetically clear about what is, unwaveringly sure of what should be, and uncompromisingly laboring towards what needs to be.
It is my prayer that as we engage with these ideas, and wrestle with these issues, as we are truly surrendered to God’s mission in the world and committed to God’s glory above all else, that the world will look at us and have no choice but to say, “These ones who proclaim Jesus – they have turned the world upside down.”
Let’s get out there. Let’s do what we are supposed to do. Let’s be all that God has called us to be – that kingdom of priests that stands before the nations, declaring His glory and goodness to all peoples. Let’s go make some noise for the Kingdom! For there is no other name given under heaven by which men may be saved. Jesus alone is Lord, and God alone deserves all glory! We know this to be true. Let us, then, join heaven in declaring:
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
O that our hearts would shout it, our lips join that grand refrain. May our actions reflect it and our lives proclaim it. Let the world hear it! Blow the trumpets! Raise the standard! Sound the battle cry! Declare it from mountain tops and roof tops, in alleyways and byways, from every hearth in every home to the central seat of power in every nation: Sola scriptura! Sola fide! Sola gratia! Solo Christo! Soli Deo Gloria! God alone is to be glorified! Christ alone saves. The mission is on. Let us not, never, be silenced until we take up the new song as the earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. Let the church arise! Let’s make some noise!
[i] My thanks to Pr Kim Kira of Lighthouse Community Church, Torrance, for this turn of phrase.
[ii] Cape Town Commitment, Part I, 2.B. Read it all at http://www.lausanne.org/en/documents/ctcommitment.html.