We are all Missionaries: Changing Local Church Perspectives on World Mission

Posted: June 13, 2012 in Mission in Japan

What do you think of when you hear the word mission in church circles? For most people the word mission conjures up images of super spiritual Christians living in mud huts with primitive tribes … and yet as Christians, we are all on mission. We are on mission for Jesus in our homes, in our families, in our communities, in our workplaces, in short, in every interaction we have with those that don’t know the saving love of Jesus. It’s good to understand that when we say missionary, we are talking about ourselves, and we are talking about ordinary people doing ordinary things, so that our extraordinary God may be known throughout the earth.

When we think of and speak about those who go overseas to do mission, it’s good to understand that they are just like us. They are sinners like us, they struggle just like us, they feel just like us. They are not ‘super Saints’ and have no aura of holiness that surrounds them so they are somehow different. Yes, sometimes they make great sacrifices to do what they do, yes often they have really tough circumstances to deal with especially culturally, and yes sometimes they see extraordinary things happen for the sake of the gospel, but then, such things are not beyond the experiences of Christians who serve God here at home. And in every case, it is the power of God at work in them that enables such things to happen. In themselves, overseas mission workers are nothing; in Christ, they can do all things because he strengthens them. And the same goes for those of us here at home.

Traditional terms associated with world mission sometimes lead us into an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality. The word support implies that we pay their way because that’s what they need. And yet, in Paul’s letters, the word that constantly surfaces is partnership. Paul constantly praises God for partnership in the gospel not for support for gospel work. This means that when we partner prayerfully and financially with ministry workers (either in Australia or overseas), we don’t just pray for them and give to them. We pray with them and we give for the gospel. We don’t just pray and give because we should, we pray and give that the glory of God may be known throughout the earth.

But partnership is more than just praying and giving. Partnership is about ownership. When we partner in gospel work, that work is also ours – we enter into it with them. It’s ours to get excited about when advances for the gospel are made. It’s ours to grieve about when Satan seems to be having his way. It’s ours to nourish and build and follow and delight in. It’s ours to be blessed through – by seeing what God does in that particular situation or project. It’s an untold blessing to individuals, families and churches to really partner … and seriously partner, with ministry workers overseas for the gospel; we are missionaries together. Not only do we see God at work in different circumstances from our own – revealing more of himself to us – but our minds are broadened as we learn about both the richness and the depravity of human existence, and our hearts are touched again and again by the magnitude of what Christ has done for us to the praise of His glorious grace!

There is a sense in which to achieve this, though, we need to change our mindset on how we understand world mission. It’s not only a terminology change: it’s a change in approach and strategy. As individuals and families, we need to be serious about our faith. We need to be involved in gospel ministry by not only contributing to our local church with our time and finances, but also to be broadening our vision to really see God at work in the wider world. We need to partner with others seriously, and realise that if Christ has sacrificed His life for us … what sacrifice can be considered too great on our part? We ARE missionaries. As churches, we need to think carefully and creatively about world mission. If we have many overseas mission workers on our books, how can we partner with them seriously as a church body?

It’s hard to reap the benefits of partnership if we can’t keep up with who is where and what’s going on in each project. While it is not something that can be changed over night, it’s good for churches to consider the benefits of partnering with just a few overseas mission projects at any one time. Firstly, if our church has just two or three overseas mission projects rather than ten or twelve, our people will actually know what they are, where they are and who is involved. Secondly, it will mean more funds from one source for the overseas ministry workers, so that their time spent in Australia on home assignment (what used to be known as furlough) is not spent racing from one church to another desperately trying to see large numbers of churches and thousands of people. Another option is to assign each home group a specific overseas mission project that they are deeply involved with.

Such measures mean that real partnerships are being built; not tenuous connections that satisfy us that we are ‘doing our bit’ for overseas mission, but serious partnerships in which the overseas mission workers and we Christians here at home actually have real relationships with one another: relationships where we are striving shoulder to shoulder for the gospel, where we are praying for each other, where we are working together even whilst living on different continents. All this so that together, as we seek the lost of this world, we will see many bend their knee and confess Jesus Christ as Lord, that the Glory of our great God and King may be known throughout the whole earth.

 

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Comments
  1. Tom Richards says:

    Great post! The second last paragraph is exactly what i have been thinking about recently. My experience is that despite our various strategies it is difficult for the people of our church to keep up with even our modest missions portfolio. The other side of that in knowing people who dread furlough because of the gruelling road trip that is visiting their supporting churches. I agree that the whole thing would work better if each church had fewer slices in their missionary pie.

    Also, do you think we should coin a new name for people who are on mission outside of the local church? Like FAM – foreign assignment missionary (but better). In WPC I am ministering ‘out of bounds’ – we’re all ministering but I am going ‘out of bounds’ – sounds cool.

    Another thing that we are thinking about is how to effectively partner in the work of building our local church while we are away. Partnership has to be a two-way street.

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