Sunday, October 9, 2011

Missions… or the Mission?

Recently, a good friend and I were chatting about church, missionaries and missional things, and she asked me, “Could you write something about missions for me? It seems that there’s a new “generation” of leadership at our church, and they just don’t get it.” So, I write this in part to fulfill my friend’s wish…and in part to remind myself what it is we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

One of the great effects of our Western mind-set or way of thinking has been the “compartmentalization” of so many aspects of life including the life of faith, the Christian life, the life of the Church. We have effectively made “missions” one of the committees of the church, one of the things that’s included in our budget, or one of the annual emphases of the church calendar. I was about to write, “If one undertakes a careful study of Scripture…,” when I realized that all one really needs to do is to make a rather cursory review of Scripture to see the truth of the matter.

If we were ask regular church goers and Christians (they’re not the same, you know!) to list the most important Scripture passages, I can almost guarantee you that John 3:16 would top the list (and so it should since it captures the essence of God’s Good News—the Gospel—God’s amazing love for us), and another passage that would be on that top-10 list would probably be Matt.28:19, 20.

Matthew 28:19,20 (well, better if we throw in vs. 18 as well!) relates some of those last, most important words of Jesus: 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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age’ (NRSV).

Now, we need to recognize and recall that Jesus didn’t call the ‘missions sub-committee’ to the side to give them these words. He didn’t announce that this was ‘missions emphasis Sunday’. Rather, Jesus left these as His parting words with all the disciples gathered there. These words seem to set the direction for the newly formed Church. Therefore, we recognize that we don’t do missions as part of the Church; rather, God’s Church is called to join in God’s mission to the world! ‘Missions’ isn’t something we do or participate in from time to time—the Mission of God is our very reason for being.

We are called, as God’s Church, to “Go…and make disciples of all nations….” So, we can’t just focus on living the Good News at home. Luke also records some of Jesus’ final words in Acts 1:8: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (NRSV). The Scriptures here make it clear that we’re to be involved in God’s mission—here, there and everywhere.

So, missions is why we exist. Missions defines the church. In fact, Scripturally we can say that a church not involved in God’s mission is not being the Church! Does that mean that everyone in the church has to be a missionary?? Not in the traditional sense of packing it all up and running off to some dark corner of the earth, no. But in a very real sense, yes! One pastor I heard recently reminded me that everyone who is on a mission is a missionary. And, if we have bought into the Christian faith, if we have decided to follow Jesus, if we have accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior, then we all have a mission…and that mission is to share and live out the Good News, the Gospel, of Jesus Christ.

Some will remain in Jerusalem and some are going to go from Jerusalem on to Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. For the Church to be the Church, we must have those who are the feet that travel wherever God is leading; we must have those who are the hands that provide for those who are going; and, we must have the knees of those who are lifting up the mission of God in prayer. In one instance, I may be feet going…in another, I may be hands extended to support one who is going where I cannot…and in yet another, I may be the one on my knees praying for the one who has stepped out in faith.

‘Missions’ is really a misnomer for the Mission of God. God calls us to go, to share the Gospel, and we go because God calls us to it and because our own lives have been impacted and changed by that Gospel—that grace and love that God has imparted to us. A speaker I heard recently affirmed, “The Gospel of Jesus Christ changes lives, changes lifestyles, changes communities, and changes cultures.” Who wouldn’t want to be a part of something so incredible, so impactful? Let us—the Church—renew our commitment to our gracious God, to Jesus who saves us, and to being a part of God’s Mission to the world through the power of God’s Spirit. Amen.