6:28 AM I’ve got missions on my mind this morning. You will quickly see that I am no expert on the subject. These convictions are simply the product of a “lay” missionist and conclusions drawn from my personal Bible study.
Mission Conviction #1:
In the scriptural sense, all Christians are missionaries.
The church, not the missions organization, is God’s primary instrument in this world. Perhaps, then, the time has come to stop outsourcing church planting to paramissions entities. This is not to downplay the role of those who are specially gifted in evangelism or church planting. These evangelists and church planters, however, are to work primarily with and through the local churches. Imagine the impact the church could have on the world if every local congregation saw itself as God’s missionary organization. “Missions” would come to mean more than sending money to support missionaries and missions programs. Nor would we continue to use the term “missionary” to refer to professionals who are paid workers. The term missionary, if used, would be given its biblical sense of “representative of God in the world” (apostolos). In the scriptural sense, all Christians are missionaries, and all are to be involved personally in missionary discipleship in service to the world. That’s why I often introduce myself to people, not as a professor of Greek, but as a “full-time missionary.” No, I am not with a paramission organization. Nor am I paid to be a missionary. So people ask, “How then can you call yourself a full-time missionary?” We must change this way of thinking. There must be a significant move away from a paternalistic attitude towards the “laity,” with a growing recognition of their importance in bringing the Gospel to our communities and to the world. According to the New Testament, ministry is not the prerogative of an elite corpus. It is not the function only of seminary-trained professionals. It is the function of the whole people of God. Thus every Christian shares the mission of the church both through personal witness and missions activities. This participation is irrespective of sex, age, gender, social standing, or academic achievement.
Mission Conviction #2:
The New Testament, from beginning to end, was written by missionaries for missionaries.
This is an implication of #1. It is my opinion that we can no longer justify theological training that aims only at making “laypersons” into “professional “missionaries. Rather, theological education must aim at mobilizing all the people of God for ministry in the world. In light of 1 Pet. 2:9 and Eph. 4:11-12, we much change our definition of ordination to include the setting apart of the whole people of God for “works of service.” In our seminaries, I believe it would make a very great difference if we were to recognize that the New Testament, from beginning to end, was written by missionaries for missionaries. It is critical to view the missionary mandate of Christ as the foundation upon which the entire work of Christian education rests. Missions acts, then, or at least should act, as the one encompassing task of Christian theology and community. Why, then, should “missions” be relegated to a missions and evangelism “department”? Such is to imply only a peripheral importance. Our goal in Christian education must be to incorporate the mission thrust of Jesus into all of our subjects. I can envision the day when trained “experts” are wedded to local churches rather than only to academic institutions. Together the whole body — trained theologians and untrained practioners — would join in the process of theologizing and missionizing. The object is for each local church to “hold forth the life-giving Word” (Phil. 2:16) in a way that people will know why and how they should turn to this new Lord Jesus Christ.
Mission Conviction #3:
The theological task in our seminaries must go beyond the classroom.
Conviction #2 implies that the theological task in our seminaries must go beyond the classroom. That is, God’s plan for contextualized missions is rendered inoperable when academics fail to think in such a way that their theology comes across accurately in their lives. God never intended theology to be divorced from life. In our day, such a divorce has become a major problem within Western Christianity. We must reconnect the academy with the church. We seminary professors, whatever our area of expertise, need to live missions, not just talk about it. As with Paul, the Gospel must become the one passion of our lives. “What am I here for?” might serve as a good daily reminder to those of us who serve as academics in our colleges and seminaries. We so easily lose sight of the reason for our existence: to further the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a matter of keeping first things first (Phil. 1:27). And ultimately that mission belongs to the church, not the seminary. The church alone is permanent, and it alone can provide the permanent structure for evangelism and service. This is one reason why in our own mission work Becky and I have worked primarily with local churches and not with larger structures. It is also why we attempt to link local church to local church between the U.S. and Ethiopia. Already several American congregations have decided to partner with their Ethiopian counterparts to further the work of the kingdom. This is because they have come to realize that the local church is God’s center for mission strategies and outreach activities. And more and more churches are getting involved.
These convictions have legs. And I really do think we’re getting somewhere, folks. My students have convinced me. I speak with a good many of them who are throwing off the bonds of selfish individualism that mummify the Body and paralyze our people into thinking only about my salvation and about my soul and about my Christ. They are allowing God into their private lives, as 1 John and James and Jude teach them to do. Organizational self-appraisal no longer dominates their conversations. They are reexamining their crowded programs. Emphasis is being properly placed on personal sanctity. Programs to arouse pride impress them no more. Their reading of the Scriptures — not the mere words of famous American pop-theologians but the Word of God itself — has shaken their complacency, shocked the status quo. Now Christ is more important than Christendom. One student even told me he’s leaving seminary to get a job in a secular field so that he could begin “full-time Christian ministry.” Vital bonds between church and world are being formed. “I was naked and you clothed Me!” They are acting for Christ, striving to keep Him clothed and warm. Above all, they are becoming Gospelers. Evangelism is now a lifestyle, not something to do on Tuesday nights.
Yes, the road is long, but I dare say we’re getting somewhere.
From the Editor: If you’ve read this far, I have something to offer you. I’m going to give out five copies of Dave Black’s book Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? I’ll accept entries until January 20, 2014. If there are more than five entries, we’ll choose the winners randomly.