Striving for a more accurate understanding Part I
What are missions? What is mission work?
It can be a buzz word of sorts in christian circles. We have all heard terms like “local missions,” “foreign missions,” “mission minded,” “mission trips,” etc. I think we should try to define the terms when explaining any given topic when we suspect it can mean something else to others. We live in a world of so much information that the waters have certainly been muddied when it comes to defining things. This makes communication difficult and unprofitable sometimes. We should want others to have a clear understanding of what we mean by our use of any given word . Because someone else may use the same word and mean something else by it. It happens all the time. So let´s try to define the terms upfront in this first article as we think about the topic of missions.
In the following ones, we will look more at the partnership between a missionary and the sending/supporting church(es).
“..we should try to define the terms when explaining any given topic when we at least suspect it can mean something else to others.”
As we think about the many sermons we have all heard, who do we hear mentioned most in regards to this topic? Who pops into your mind first when you think of missions? Is it Peter or John? Maybe, but I’d have to say probably not. Most people would automatically think..Paul of course. There is a reason for this.
Paul is most likely remembered as “the missionary” because there is much in the New Testament about his missionary journeys. But it’s important that we also remember that he was specifically the Apostle to the gentiles. The other Apostles pretty much stayed ministering among Jews, their same people group. While Paul went out to the gentiles, people different from himself. Although he also preached to Jews, generally he went to places where the people looked different and had a different worldview and culture.
“Paul crossed cultural lines with the Gospel. He went to the “ethnos,” to the nations, to other kinds of people.”
We must at least admit that there is definitely a different element about Paul’s mission to the gentiles, in comparison to Jews preaching the Gospel to other Jews in Jerulsalem. Paul crossed cultural lines with the Gospel. He went to the ethnos, to the nations, to other kinds of people.
In what is known as the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18 – 20, Jesus says the following:
..“All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations (ethnos), baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have
commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
So the Lord’s orders are to go, and make disciples of all the ἔθνος…
This word can mean:
a race, people, nation; the nations, Gentiles (non Jews).
UThe Great Commission in this text, is the mission that believers refer to when we talk about “missions.” This is where the concept comes from. But in light of the clear command of Christ we must ask, are we always using this term correctly? Oftentimes I´m afraid not. I must say first of all that I believe most people have the best of intentions and I certainly commend their willingness to serve the Lord. I have nothing but love and respect for that.
“..in light of the clear command of Christ we must ask, are we always using this term correctly?”
But the actual “mission” of the Great Commission is to specifically take the Gospel and make disciples of people from other nations. We must evangelize and disciple our own people too of course, but not only ours. I don’t think the Scriptures allow us such a luxury of choosing an “either / or” approach when it comes to missions. Every local church should strive to be involved in Gospel proclamation at home and over seas. Whether it be in going, sending, supporting, praying, whatever it may be. But certainly involved and committed, in both local ministry and foreign missions in some way.
There should also be an understanding that He who has all authority in heaven and on earth
was not just giving us a suggestion. It wasn’t a beggar’s plea, it was a King’s command!
“..actual missions would be evangelism and discipleship in a different cultural context than your own.”
In foreign missions, the call is to reach and make Christ followers of people who are unlike ourselves. Crossing geographical, ethno-linguistic
and obvious cultural boundaries. It could be said that what many call “local missions” is actually evangelism, and/or some other type of ministry. But according to the command, actual missions would be evangelism and discipleship in a
different cultural context than your own. Now, that definition could probably be broadened or worded better, but for now let’s say that at a minimum, missions as we see in Scripture is crossing cultural lines with the Gospel.
“Every local church should strive to be involved in Gospel proclamation at home and over seas.”
Some may not see that as too significant. But I would argue that it is very important that we make such a distinction. We must define the terms.
Because when we use terms like “local missions,” when we often refer to activities that aren’t really missions at all. You are only doing “local missions” if we are crossing those cultural barriers with the Gospel locally.
For example, if you are in a predominantly white community in the U.S., and are intentionally trying to reach nearby populations of people from other cultures such as hispanics, asians, etc, (people of another ethnos), we should consider that doing local missions. But anything else is well, something else, as good and glorifying to God as it may be. We just need to be more cautious and more accurate about how we define things.
“You are only doing local missions if we are crossing those cultural barriers with the Gospel locally.”
It may be evangelism…absolutely essential! We must preach the Gospel everywhere to everyone. But this usually plays out most naturally where we
live and in the surrounding area with people that are involved our daily life.
It may be disaster relief…amen! We should come to the rescue of those suffering and in need. This is not only the right thing to do, but it also opens us
up to new opportunities to share the Gospel with people who are not in our immediate circle of influence.
Please don’t misinterpret me. In no way am I trying to downplay the importance of these ministries and/or other important acts of Christian service. It’s another kind of good and necessary local ministry. It just isn’t missions if it doesn’t involve that intentional cross cultural element as stated by our Lord.
“We just need to be more cautious and more accurate about how we define things.”
Ok, so what? Why is it so important to define missions this way? If we don’t make this distinction, we can miss the mark in this area. Because if we call something “missions” that is not involving the actual mission (cross cultural ministry), we will think we are doing what we are called to do. We may think we are participating in the real mission when we are actually only doing part of what we should be doing (commanded to do). Why? Because we have been calling it something by a term that it really isn’t. Defining the terms is important.
We are called to evangelize the community around us. But the church is also called to the nations (ethnos). We can do that through equipping or through going ourselves. We may do that through sending which means commitment, funding and communication. But when the church does that, and a person takes the gospel across cultural lines to a different people, for the purpose of making disciples, then the church has participated in missions in the most biblical sense.
“..we have been calling it (local ministry) something else that it really isn’t. Defining the terms is important.“
This is definitely the work of the local church, it is the will of God, and it is the way that God has ordained to call people from every tribe, tongue and nation unto Himself while making His name great among the nations! Christ is building His church, preparing His bride and has invited us into this work. This is for all who name the name of Christ. It is an honor to serve our King in this way! It is in God’s kindness that He brings former enemies into His family as sons and daughters and allows us to serve Him in this holy work. Let us understand that this is a privilege more than it is a sacrifice.
This idea of missions in a foreign context also necessitates a support system. An important partnership between the local church (in most cases, other supporting churches are necessary too), the missionary and the willing “Epaphroditus.” The fellow soldier and worker, the visiting messenger and minister to the missionary’s need. In the following articles, I will attempt to explain what that kind of partnership looks like using an example in Scripture from Philippians.
Grace and peace.
Written by Antonio Salgado Jr.