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prov·o·ca·tion - something that provokes, arouses, or stimulates. pant - to long eagerly; yearn. a collection of thoughts intended to provoke and inspire. these posts are hoping to encourage people to think, especially Christians, and pant even harder for the waterbrooks of the Lord. If you are not a believer in Christ Jesus, I welcome your perspective and encourage your investigation on these matters.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Missions: The Ecclesiastical Catch-All for Special Interests*

[I KNOW IT'S LONG . . . BUT PLEASE READ] Over the past twenty years or so, missions has taken a profound place of prominence in the local church (as it should) due to a number of reasons, not the least of which is the incredible number of churches taking short-term mission trips. As a result, many churches have considered creating a missions department, budget, and even a full-time or part-time minister to head the department. I myself, being one who has responded to the call of missions, have found this renewed interest quite encouraging. When I was a child, all I ever thought and was told about missions was that old and weird people went out and lived in huts somewhere in Africa, and those people had no relevance to me or our local church. This couldn't be farther from the truth! Yet still today, there is the question as to what exactly is missions. This question has particular necessity, for it determines a wide scope of Christianity from cross-cultural engagement to determining what exactly constitutes a missions department in a local church. From the lay person to the scholars alike, indeed, there is some confusion and even controversy over what missions is and involves. Because missions is not clearly defined in the Bible (althought it is clearly substantiated), the contours and shaping of mission has been in flux over the years. Consequently, there remains some ambiguity and lack of precision when we speak of missions. Let me explain: There are three words that are basically used today: missio Dei (mission of God or sending of God), mission, and missions. In that order, the go from general to specific. Missio Dei basically means all the work of God which He accomplishes throughout history; mission is the work of the church corporately; and missions involves the individual and their vocational calling. In my brief research, I have complied a few definitions. Let's look at a few: "Missions is the conscious efforts on the part of the church, in its corporate capacity, or through voluntary agencies, to proclaim the gospel among peoples and in regions where it is still unknown or only inadequately known." (Missiology, 2). "The calling to be light requires prioritizing missions in favor of those in darkness. Of course, all those who do not know Christ are in darkness, but there are also degrees of darkness related to factors such as the availability of the gospel, accessibility of Christian worship, the existence of Scripture and related Christian literature in the heart language of the target people, or the presence of oppressive structures and traditions. Missions should be zealous to take the gospel to the darkest corners of the world and of society so that every creature has the opportunity to receive the light of Christ." (Missiology, 28). Missions is "the activity of God's people--the church--to proclaim and to demonstrate the kingdom of God cross-culturally in the world." (Experiencing God, 3). Missions is "the sending forth of authorized persons beyond the borders of the New Testament church and her immediate gospel influence to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in gospel-destitute areas, to win converts from other faiths or non-faiths to Jesus Christ, and to establish functioning, multiplying local congregations who will bear the fruit of Christianity in that community and to that country." (A Biblical Theology of Missions, 11). I have provided these commonly referred-to definitions because I believe that there needs to be some clarity on what we call missions. Because of the rise of missions emphasis, I have noticed many things be incorporated into missions that do not fit the definition. Henceforth, to defend missions, it must first be defined. Two aspects must be considered: first, the most basic idea of mission involves a task, objective, goal, focus - one in which a particular person is given and sent to do. Like the military overseas, their operations are called "missions", and the officers are to carry out the directives of the sending agency. Second, within the framework of missions, there is the differing degrees of darkness. As being "the light of the world", we are to go to the darkest, most destitute places, that the gospel and glory of God be heard and received. Granted, there is an element of darkness everywhere, even in the church; however, one would be amiss to think that something can be missions when it is directed towards an objective that involves 99% light and 1% darkness and call that missions. It is true that every Christian is "on mission with God." As the Father has sent his Son into the world, even we have been sent (John 20:21); we are "sent ones", just as Jesus constantly referred to himself as "the one whom the Father has sent"; all Christians have been given the Great Commission to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations (ethno-linguistic people groups), and as Charles Spurgeon put it, "Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter." All this I would agree . . . But what do you call the person to whom Jesus referred to as "leaving their fields, homes, family, and fortunes for the gospel's sake and the kingdom's sake"? What do you call Paul, Barnabas, and others in Acts who went to the Gentiles, to all of Asia, to the remotest areas of the world that Christ would be proclaimed in all the world? Certainly there is in missions the idea of individuals who pluck up in order to plant; there is the giving up and going over, the leaving of a cultural context to enter another cultural context for the sake of the message of Jesus Christ, yea, the person of Jesus Christ. And clearly, this is not the work or calling or vocation of every Christian. So there needs to be a distinction between missions and evangelism and witnessing. Every Christian is called to witness, to partake actively in the Great Commission, to evangelize and be "fishers of men". Yet there must be a clear line of distinction between the mission of the church (as previously described) and missions. If not, everything will become missions, and the heartbeat of world evangelization would grow faint. As some have stated, "The purpose [of missions] should not be so generally stated that everything becomes missions. Then the danger arises that the more critical concerns will be overshadowed by a host of lesser concerns, and missions will lose its direction" (Missiology, 27). Again, it is said, "Many evangelicals rightly note that the term has become so broadly defined in mainline discussion that everything the church has done is now seen as mission--which means, in effect, that nothing is truly mission" (Mission on the Way, 153). This is so important, because what I have seen today is a mish-mash job on missions. Because churches want to have a legitimate missions department in their respective church, many are clumping different projects, programs, or ministries into missions either ignorantly or unjustifiably. Some, I fear, are doing so because they know people will always back missions; therefore, we will redefine missions to be what we want it to be and get people to support it. As a result, missions has become the "ecclesiastical catch-all" for special interests in the church. Like legislators on Capitol Hill, missions has become the bill for spiritual "pork-barreling" withline-item small print additions all in the name of "The Great Commission." When I hear of churches whose missions department and budget is comprised of internet broadcasting, radio shows (on Christian stations I might add), exercise programs, Bible conferences (sugar stick sermons from circuit preachers to encourage the church), and on and on . . . I am hurt, frustrated, grieved, and disappointed. It we would but be honest and realistic, it is clear that these cannot constitute "missions". Maybe we need to add Weight Watchers to the missions budget to reached overweight people, Winsor Pilates to the mission budget to reach couch potatoes, purchase a Bass boat from the missions budget to reach Bubba on the river, and sewing machines to reach the homemakers. And put it all together, well, we have a budget that is $500,000! What a missions program we have! Right? What we have done is squeezed the concentrate of missions out, and replaced its core and substance with a water-down version - a version bloated and bubbly, but not fruitful. These mentioned and others have little to no connotation to being "sent" nor destitute or dark places. Only in the most minimal of ways (and a stretch at that) can much of what is called missions today be supported Biblically or missiologically. Would you rather have a missions church that targets 100% darkness or 1% darkness? I have a novel idea: Let's let missions be missions. Let's be stand-up people who are forthright in our intentions and honest in our administrations. Let's give money to those who are really doing missions, many who are having to come back because the local church has started their own short-sighted enterprise at the expense of the long-term missions overseas. Did you know that for every $100 given to the church in America, only $.05 (yes 5 cents) goes to the frontier missionaries who are reaching unreached people groups, indigenous peoples, unknown languages, for the glory of God?! Yet we have neglected them. Missions is about the transformation of societies, peoples, and cultures with the gospel of Jesus Christ through people who pay extreme costs in doing so, even their lives. The church is heavily indebted to them, and they are our heroes. Their stories will not be written in this life, and you won't find their bio's on the front shelf at Lifeway, but in heaven for eternity, we will see on God's movie screen each story, each life, of missionaries who embodied the essence of the gospel. People are still groping in darkness, thousands of people groups still unreached, and millions waiting to hear about Jesus. For the sake of the Kingdom coming, let's not turn missions into our treasure chest of special interests in order to substantiate and justify projects and programs that do not belong in it. While they may be good in and of themselves, they do not belong in missions. And while we wait realize that, our heroes are out there, and we are their life-line through our praying, our giving, our mobilizing, and our going.


Anonymous tracy said...

Yo Timmy,
where did you get the stat about the five cents per 100 bucks? I thought the co-operative program did better than that, and the annie armstrong and lottie moon programs have to be better also.


6/02/2005 05:59:00 AM

Blogger Timmy said...

That stat is actually from a powerpoint presentation of the IMB. The figure does not come from monies given specifically to the IMB, but to churches in general (all funds to whatever church, denomination, etc.).

Quite the contrary, the IMB has done some amazing things in the past five years. For a long time, SBC missionaries have been diversified over various mission objectives. Just recently, the IMB, under the leadership of Jerry Rankin, has redirected and refocused its efforts to reach the unreached people of the world. If you look at the placement of missionary appointments today with the IMB, you will see that the overwhelming majority is going to the lat frontier in reaching the remotest and darkest places in the world. Plainly put, the IMB is the best mission agency in the world (in my opinion) and are pacesetters in the world of missions. Unfortunately, the common Southern Baptist in the pew has no idea what amazing things God is doing through their missionaries. Essentially, to give to the IMB would be to give 99% to frontier missions and pioneering work.
The Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong is the bread and water for IMB missions. Personally, I believe that every church who is affiliated with the SBC should be required to tithe to the missions program with the SBC. Unfortunatley, churches are trying to do microscopically on their own what has been for centuries been done macroscopically through coopration (hence cooperative program) of churches. The organization, administration, and strategy is set with the IMB, and although there is beaurocracy and politiking in the IMB (as is in any other organization), it has been tried and proven. These modern inventions, in my estimation, are short-sighted, self-directed attempts to do what has already been done.

Summed up, you are right. The IMB, Annie Armstrong, and Lottie Moon, while not perfect, is doing a great work in missions, and we must get behind them with both our efforts and our money and channel our lives in the synergistic pulse for the glory of God among the peoples of the world.

6/02/2005 03:52:00 PM

Blogger tracy said...

That is why it will be our jobs as pastors to educate and inform the people we minister to as to missions and their importance. My former pastor believed that no one wanted to hear a sermon or stats on missions and giving to missions. You are right about the churches trying to do this on their own. My brother's church in B'ham is trying to do it own their own and are having a hard time. I guess that is just part of the Baptist autonomy, which has its pros and cons. I believe in the co-operative program and am thankful for it. (it also allows us to have half price tuition)

6/02/2005 09:19:00 PM

Blogger Timmy said...

You are correct. No two SBC churches are the same because of local autonomy (which has been both the virtue and vice of the denomination). I personally know of some churches who have great missions "programs" are genuinely devoted to the gospel's proclamation among the people's of the world. Yet for every one of those I have read, seen, and witnessed, there have been 10 who are just as I described them. History tells us that bad theology (orthodoxy) has stifled missions in years past, and I fear that it may be bad practice (orthopraxy) that may cripple future endeavors. We must work together for the preserverance and progress of missions for years to come.

6/02/2005 09:53:00 PM


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