Summary: Understanding our mission dictates embracing missions. Failure to understand the first leads to failure to fulfil the latter.
3 JOHN 5 8
GOING OUT FOR THE SAKE OF THE NAME
“Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.”
Missions have fallen on hard times in this day; actually, mission has fallen on hard times. There will be no missions if Christians fail to embrace the mission that is assigned. This is not theological double-talk; it points out a vital truth that is frequently neglected. Contemporary theology trains us to think of missions as the work that specially trained individuals do at a distance from our assemblies. However, if there is no understanding of the mission assigned as individual believers in the Risen Son of God, we have no reason to either participate in or to support missions. If we do not each accept responsibility to fulfil the charge of the Master where we live, we will not be concerned to support His mission at a distance.
Charles Spurgeon, the Baptist divine who ministered in London during the nineteenth century, illustrates the importance of understanding our mission in order to engage in missions. In a sermon preached in 1863 Spurgeon said, “I regard Christ’s commission to his disciples as binding upon us to-day: ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.’ I cannot tell whether every creature to whom I preach is elect or not, but it is my business to preach the gospel to all whom I can reach, resting assured that all of them whom God has chosen unto eternal life will certainly accept it. When a certain clergyman asked the Duke of Wellington, ‘Does your grace think it is any use preaching the gospel to the Hindoos?’ he simply replied, ‘What are your marching orders?’ As a soldier, he believed in obeying orders; and when the clergyman answered that, the orders were, ‘Preach the gospel to every creature,’ the duke said. ‘Then your duty is quite clear; obey your Master’s orders, and don’t you trouble, about anybody else’s opinions.’” What are our marching orders? They are indeed clear. As a congregation, as individuals, we have no excuse for disobedience.
Perhaps our failure to vigorously support missionary advance in this day is in part because as Christians we are no longer taught the necessity of missions; but more likely the reason is that we are no longer trained to understand the responsibility for each one to be on mission. Perhaps we have become so focused on assigning the work of missionary advance to a few specialised workers, forgetting our individual responsibility that we are no longer capable of thinking of individual responsibility to advance of the cause of Christ.
Such thoughts prompt me to ask, “Who is a missionary? What does a missionary do?” The question is pertinent in great measure because of a paradigm shift in Christian attitudes toward missions in this generation. The stories of missionary sacrifice to advance the cause of Christ that excited previous generations seem dated to modern churches, and are thus ignored. Contemporary congregations are ignorant of the ideal of sacrifice for the sake of the Name.
Not that many years ago, the vast majority of missionaries served on a particular field for the duration of their life. Today, overwhelmingly missionaries serve for a matter of months, or more likely, for a matter of weeks or even days. I became aware of the changing nature of “missions” some years ago while pastoring in the city of New Westminster. The congregation I pastored was reputed to be a mission-minded church. For years, the congregation was reputed to be one of the leading mission-supporting churches in the Lower Mainland. The congregation boasted that it supported over one hundred missionaries; however, most of the missionaries supported were supported with a few dollars each month. Rather than developing a strategy that would provide congregational connection with the missionary supported and investing in missionaries to accomplish that goal, the church had drifted into a model that permitted boasting of their missionary outreach without requiring oversight. They were literally impoverishing the congregation without accomplishing much.
At that time I noted that the demographics of missionaries supported were changing dramatically. Reflecting the changing attitudes witnessed throughout the church world, the congregation was increasingly sponsoring “short-term” missionaries. Ostensibly, this was because fewer Christians were committing themselves to a life of mission service. Though there were several retired missionaries in the membership of the congregation, there had not been a lifer—a long-term missionary—sent out from that congregation in many years.