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Our dear heavenly Father, we pray now that You would stoop down to our meager comprehension and speak to us, that we may understand. Teach us, rebuke us, correct us, train us in righteousness, that we may be wise unto salvation and competent for every good work. Help us to listen, help us to understand. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Wasn’t last week great? With Elias preaching to us? I hope to have that energy about something in my life someday. That was, that was so encouraging and inspiring, and if Elias was preaching to us and helping us to think about opening our mouths and evangelism and speaking the truth of God’s Word and inspirational and exhortational, then this message, this conclusion to Missions Week, is going to be more global than local. It’s going to be theological and hopefully in that inspirational.
But I want us to think together about one very specific question: What is the mission of missions? What is the mission of missions?
The question is simple, the answer is not. In recent years, there has been a great deal of conversation among missiologists and in mission literature and among practitioners and pastors about what exactly we mean or ought to mean with words like mission, missionary, or a newer term, missional.
I bet if we were to take a poll, you would all be for all of those things. Yes, I like mission, missionaries, missional.
And then if we were to go around and ask “give a definition of mission, missionary, missional,” we would find almost as many nuances as there may be people in this room.
I wrote a book with a friend of mine, Greg Gilbert, several years ago called What is the Mission of the Church? which was our attempt to, sort of, throw our two cents into the conversation, because it seems that it is no longer self-evident what we mean by mission, or missionary, or missional.
For some people, mission means nothing but evangelism. It is a synonym for evangelism, while others would rather have mission include every good thing that the church might do, or everything that you might do as a Christian in obedience to Christ.
So ask yourself some of these questions: Is environmental stewardship mission work? What about teaching people to read and write? Or agricultural development? Or medical care? Or digging wells? Or building orphanages? Or developing the arts? Or refurbishing a park? Or planting a tree? Or lowering unemployment? Or working for religious liberty? Or feeding the poor? Or pursuing social justice? And the list could go on and on and on.
Those may all be good things. The question is whether these activities by themselves constitute the mission of the Church. Those are certainly things Christians can do and many Christians ought to do, but our question is more narrow. What is the mission of the mission of the Church?
So before we get to our text, let me just be very clear with what I’m not saying, lest in providing some clarity and definition to the word “mission” you would leave here and think “pastor thinks that what I care about doesn’t matter.” So listen carefully: I am not answering the question “what are all the good things Christians can do or should do to love their neighbors and be salt and light in the world?” That is not the question that we are seeking to answer. Second, I am not answering the question “what are all the things we might care about or do as a congregation?”
So when I wrote the book What is the Mission of the Church? even though it was giving a narrow and I think from this text which we are about to read , a biblical definition, I did not write that book so that Christians would stop being involved in politics or education or the arts or justice or issues in healthcare or law or a thousand other areas where we need Christian interests and worldview and passions. No, the purpose of that book was to get us focused on the explicit mission of the church.
So before we come to this text, I promise, we’re getting there, and I know that this counts against my time, [laughter] and I unlike some preachers perhaps, I am sort of pacing myself to try to get through all of my points, but we’ll move quickly if we have to, let’s think about the word “mission.” Where is the word mission in your English Bibles? It’s not there. And so some people say “mission” has no biblical sort of definition, it’s not even in our Bibles. Well, I would beg to differ.
Let me give you the name of a scholar, it’s a great scholar name, Eckhard Schnabel. I think he now teaches at Gordon-Conwell up in Boston. He has some massive books on mission. He has two 1000-page volumes on early Christian mission and he has a 500-page work on Paul the missionary. He is one of the world’s leading experts on mission in the New Testament, and he makes this point forcefully, that “mission,” though it doesn’t appear in your English Bibles, is a biblical word.
The Latin “mitere” is from, where our word “mission” comes from. “Mitere” simply means “to send out.” You have at the end of a service, or the end of a class, you have a “dismissal,” it’s from that Latin word “mitere,” “to send out.” It corresponds to the Greek word “apostoline,” and you maybe recognize that word “apostle.” Apostoline, the verb, occurs 136 times in the New Testament, 97 times in the Gospels, used both for Jesus having been sent by the Father and for the 12 and others being sent by Jesus. The apostles, in the broadest sense of the term, were those who had been sent out, that’s what “apostoline” means, that’s what “mitere” means, and so this “sent out-ness” is the first thing we should note relative to the term “mission” or “missionary.”
It is, after all, the first thing Jesus notes about His mission, when He gives some definition to it in Luke 4:18 in Nazareth, He says He was sent to proclaim a message of Good News to the poor. So if we think about missional, or being on mission or engaging in mission work, it suggests some intentionality, some movement, someone being sent from one place to another. Sent for some specific task.
Your mission, if you should choose to accept it. Okay, we understand that “Mission: Impossible” before the gizmo blows us, refers to a task that the IMF is sending Ethan, Tom Cruise, out to accomplish. If you don’t know that cultural reference, perhaps some of you parents will remember several years ago there was a show on Disney,Jr. Called “Secret Agent Oso.” He was a bear named Oso, which is the Spanish word for “bear,” so it was pretty obvious, and he was a secret agent who every episode was given a specific mission: Find three sides to a triangle, find the sharp side of a pencil… They were slightly more mission possible than impossible. [laughter] But even there, there is a common… His mission as a secret agent bear was to go out and accomplish a specific task.
So when we think about the mission of the church, we are asking that question “What is the task that the Church has been given to accomplish in the world?”
Every Christian, if we are going to be obedient to the Great Commission, must be involved in missions. But, and I know some people disagree with me on this, not every Christian is a missionary. While it is certainly true we should all be ready to give an answer for the hope that we have and we should all adorn the Gospel with good works and we should all be evangelists and bear witness to Christ as we have opportunity, I think we ought to reserve the term “missionary” for those who are intentionally sent from one place to another to accomplish the mission of the Church.
And part of this sermon is giving the biblical rationale for that. There’s also a practical rationale, that while I understand why some people say “we’re all missionaries,” which is meant to, to really impress upon you that you have nonbelievers in your life, you have people to evangelize, you have work to do and all of that yes and amen, but when we are all missionaries, and everything is a mission field and Charlotte is a mission field and your backyard is a mission field, there is a danger that in a kind of equal ultimacy we lose sight of where the Gospel is least known and where there is the greatest need.
I have known churches before with this sort of thinking who say everything is mission, we’re all missionaries, who slash their global missions sort of budget and put it all into church planting in their very extremely churched city. I’m for church planting; we have planted churches, we, I hope, Lord willing, will plant more churches in and around our area and through our Presbytery, but there is biblical and practical rationale for reserving that term “mission” and “missionary” to refer to the task accomplished as we are sent from one place to another.
It’s important, remember, the word “ecclesia,” “church,” is by definition the assembly of those who have been called out. Our fundamental identity as believers is not so much those sent as it is those called, called out of darkness into His marvelous light. Missionaries are those unique missionaries called by God, sent by the church to go out further the mission where it has not been established.
All of this is to bring us to greater clarity now finally as we come to this text, Acts chapter 14. Beginning at verse 19.
“But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they remained no little time with the disciples.”
The question: What is the mission of missions? I believe that the answer, at least in large part, can be found in these verses that we just read.
Now before I explain why, I need to make a case why this text would give an answer to it, because couldn’t I just turn to some other text in the Bible and say “love your neighbor as yourself” or the Good Samaritan, that gives us the answer to the question what is the mission of the church. Why this text in particular?
Well, for starters, Acts is the inspired history of the mission of the Church. It is meant to continue where Luke’s gospel left off, and we’ll say some more about that tonight as we look at the end of Acts.
Now go to Luke chapter 24, Luke wrote both the Gospel of Luke and Acts, and you see how Luke ends in verse 47, “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
So Luke is picking up in Acts chapter 1 this same narrative, where he left off in Luke 24, you’re going to proclaim, you’re going to be witnesses, wait in Jerusalem for a power from the Holy Spirit, and you’re going to go and speak the Good News.
The second volume, then, is Acts where Luke will describe what those commissioned at the end of the first volume are sent out to do.
So look at Acts chapter 1, verse 1: “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach.” That’s a key word, “began.” If Luke, if the Gospel of Luke was what Jesus began to do and to teach, then by implication Acts is the story of what Jesus continues to do and to teach. So Acts is not simply a history of the Church, it is a history of what Christ continued to do through the Church. We must never forget that we are not replacing Jesus in the world, but Jesus by the Holy Spirit is still working and active in the world, and we bear witness to Him. That’s the point of Acts, to show the apostles as Christ’s witnesses, chapter 1 verse 8, “in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
And as you’ve probably seen before, Acts 1:8 gives us the table of contents for the book. Acts is explicitly designed to show the advance of the Gospel in the world, so that in the first chapters we’re in Jerusalem and then Judea, and then as persecution happens the Church is scattered, Samaria, and finally to the ends of the earth.
We have good reason to think that this passage in Acts 14, given the context of the book of Acts, which is and inspired account of how the mission of bearing witness continued, we have good reason to think that this text in particular may give us a good answer to the question “what is the mission of the mission of the church?”
So look at the beginning of Acts 13. At the beginning of Acts 13, the church at Antioch, prompted by the Holy Spirit, set apart Paul and Barnabas, verse 2, “for the work to which I have called them.” This is the first time the Gospel is going to be preached to unbelievers in Acts. Not the first time strictly unbelievers, but I should say the first time that with intentionality they are going to be sent out as Christian workers. Paul and Barnabas have shared, some have been scattered, but now for the first time, the Gospel is going to unbelievers because a church in particular says “we are setting apart these two fellows to go and to accomplish this mission in another location.” They travel to Cypress then to Pisidia and Antioch, then to Iconium, then to Lystra, then to Derbe, and from there back through Lystra, Iconium, Pisidia, Antioch, Perga, back to Antioch in Syria. That completes Paul’s first missionary journey.
So go back to the passage we read in Acts chapter 14. You notice the heading before verse 24, “Paul and Barnabas Return to Antioch in Syria.” So you can think of this as the missionaries from Antioch coming back from their missionary journeys and they’re having a nice potluck with the church and they’re loading up the PowerPoint and they’re showing to everyone, well, tell us, we sent you out, what did you do? You’re our missionaries, you’re our “sent out” ones. What happened? So Paul and Barnabas say “okay, let’s take a look at what we did,” and they gave a report to them.
Verse 19 through 23 give a description of the sort of things that they did in miniature and the sort of things that they likely would have reported to the church in Antioch. Here’s what we accomplished as your missionaries. All of that is to make a case why these verses in particular in this book in particular in this location in particular give us a strong indication of what the mission in the early church was all about. And we see in these verses, in particular verses 21, 22, and 23, we see the three-legged stool of mission work. Luke gives us an apostolic model for missionary service. That is, for the work that a missions committee should be about, what a missions pastor should be encouraging, how we ought to spend our mission dollars, and this apostolic model has three parts.
First, new converts. Look at verse 21: “When they had preached the Gospel to that city and had made many disciples.” So that’s part of what Paul and Barnabas report here to Antioch: We were making new converts.
Number two: New communities. You see that in verse 23: “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church.” So they’re not just winning converts who make a decision for Christ, but then they are gathering them into constituted churches appointing elders.
So new converts, new communities, and here’s the third leg of this stool: Nurtured churches. Verse 22: “Strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith.” That’s the three-legged stool of apostolic mission: New converts, new communities, and nurtured churches.
Now to be sure, Christian missionaries may be active in more, more active in one aspect or another. It isn’t to say that every organization, every missionary, everything we support, is doing all three of those in equal measure. You may have someone who’s doing pioneering evangelism, someone who’s focusing on church planting, someone who is helping to train and strengthen leaders by, with an international seminary… But all mission work must keep these three things in mind: If the apostles are meant to be our models, and I think we would agree that they are good models for us, then we should expect missionaries and mission work to be engaged in these activities. The goal of mission is to win new converts, to establish these disciples in the faith, and to incorporate them into the local church. Verse 21, 22, 23.
Now I mentioned Eckhard Schnabel, I just like to say His name. He has three points which are almost identical to that. He says one, missionaries communicate the news of Jesus the Messiah and Savior to people who have not heard or accepted this news. Two, missionaries communicate a new way of life that replaces, at least partially, the social norms and behavioral patterns of the society in which the new believers have been converted. Three, missionaries integrate these new believers into a new community.
And if you want to sum all that up with words that are very familiar to most of us, you could say “What is the mission of the mission of the Church? Evangelism, discipleship, church planting.” New converts, new communities, nurtured churches. That’s what the church in Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas to do.
Now, again, missionaries may aim at one of these components more than the other two, but all three should be present in our overall missionary strategy. Think about it. The work of discipleship and church planting cannot take place unless there are non-believers coming to Christ. But these nonbelievers must be grounded in the faith, taught what it means to follow Christ. And if our missionary work only focuses on evangelism and discipleship, without a vision for the centrality of the church, then we’re not being faithful to the pattern we see in Acts, because the pattern in Acts is not simply college fellowships, in conversations, reading the Bible over coffee is as important, as essential as those usually are to mission work, but the planting and establishing of churches.
I forget who said it, but it’s a very good line that the local church is both the origin and the goal of missions. The origin, this is where, where it comes from, and the goal, this is what we’re trying to replicate. Now the churches look different, they’re different sizes, they have different cultural trappings depending upon where you are, but the goal is healthy, established, nurtured churches.
Now again, just adding enough qualifications here. I am not suggesting that when a missionary goes to some new field that he or she will be able to automatically start with these tasks on day one, we have to be patient. It may be that it takes years to learn the language, and win a hearing for the people you’re trying to reach. Or it may be that your visa says “doctor” or “nurse” or “business” or “agronomist” or “English teacher,” and you are doing that, but your bigger purpose, your longer-lasting goal, why you’re there is to win people to Christ, that they might be rooted in the faith, that the indigenous church would be firm and established.
So, yes, there are creative ways, there are multiple ways, there are different strategies, and they all take patience.
Acts 14 does not tell us how everything has to work, but it does tell us, I believe, what the essential nature of this missionary work entails.
Which means, on the one hand, we want to avoid the danger of making missions too small. Some well-meaning Christians will act as if conversion is the only thing that counts. And so they put all of their efforts into getting to the field as quickly as possible, speaking to as many people as possible, and then leaving as soon as possible and they write their letters home and they say “we had a great evangelistic really and we preached the Gospel and afterward we asked and a hundred people gave their lives to Christ and so our work here is done.” Some people have a view of mission like that, and it’s too small, it’s too narrow. And what happens to those supposed converts when you leave and when they’ve not been discipled, when they’re not constituted into churches. So that’s one danger.
The other danger is that we make our understanding of mission too broad. And so some well-meaning Christians will act as if everything counts as mission. And as the famous saying goes, “When everything is mission, nothing is mission,” and so they will put their efforts into improving job skills, and medical centers, and clean water, and great schools, and better crop yields… All of which matter and all of which we might do as an expression of the love of Christ for our neighbor, but none of which we see Paul and Barnabas being sent from Antioch to accomplish.
I have no doubt that God gifts some of us and calls us to care for orphans, here or in other lands, or uses us to help develop better sanitation practices, or to help sick people with very little access to medical care. Please hear me clearly: We should celebrate this work. And I love that there are people in this church who are passionate about all those things, or passionate about pro-life issues, or passionate about the arts, or passionate about disability ministry, passionate about a thousand good things that we ought to be engaged in as Christians, so please hear me again. This message is not a message to tell you stop caring about those things.
At the same time, without denigrating those good works in the slightest, we must conclude from Acts 14 and from the entire book of Acts that the Church’s mission, that is what the Church is in the world to accomplish, is something more specific, more unique.
Again, Schanbel argues that those who demand a revolution in our understanding of mission, away from the traditional missionary focus on winning people to Christ, that those who concentrate rather on a “holistic understanding of Jesus,” do so, he says, without strong supporting evidence.
We see this and we’ll say more about it tonight throughout the book of Acts, that the book of Acts is again and again about the triumph of the Word of God, literally every single chapter is about how the Word is going forth, and when the Word goes forth, some people hate it, some people are saved. Some people say “give us this God,” some people say “we want to kill you.” And chapter after chapter we seen the steady unrelenting momentum of the Word of God going forward. We see it in Paul’s missionary journeys, we see it in his letters; the central work to which he has been called is the verbal proclamation of Jesus Christ as saviour and Lord. That’s why, looking back at our text, Acts 14:27, the Singulair summary of his mission work just completed, is that God had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. His goal, in other words, as a missionary was conversion, the transformation of their hearts and minds and then incorporating these new believers into mature, duly-constituted churches.
I’ll give you another quote from some missiologists, a book called Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission, by Kostenberger and O’Brien. They describe what it would look like “if the apostolic model is to be followed by missionaries in the contemporary scene.” And they say the work of these missionaries would begin with winning converts, but it would not stop there, for they would “be engaged in forming believers into mature Christian congregations, providing theological and pastoral counsel against dangers arising from inside and outside the Church, strengthening believers both individually and corporately as they face suffering and persecution so that they will stand fast in the Lord” and all of that, they say, falls within the scope of what is involved in continuing the mission of the exulted Lord Jesus Christ.
So what is the mission of missions? It is to preach the Gospel to those who have not heard. It is to disciple those new believers in the life and doctrine of the faith. And it is to establish those disciples into heathy churches with sound teaching and good leaders.
So let me finish with a few implications. If all of that is true, if all of that is true and I’ve just sort of given you a very condensed version what I tried to write out in that book ten years ago, so take a deep breath, if that’s true and that’s an accurate reflection of Acts chapter 14, and the mission of the mission, what does that mean for us? Let me give three implications.
First, implication number one: Those currently serving as missionaries should consider whether Paul’s priorities are their priorities. Now I’m not thinking of specific missionaries from our church, this is not secretly trying to get at any of them, but rather is just a diagnostic tool for our missionaries or for any missionaries, maybe someone listening to this message years from now, to see if your work in its aims look like the summary given here at the end of Acts chapter 14. Now we know that the missionary enterprise is complex. And so to achieve these aims you may need pilots and people to fix those planes to get missionaries into the jungles and you may need people to work and making sure that the bills are paid for the mission organization and people to translate those scriptures, so there’s all sorts of tasks that you might do toward these ends. But it’s an important diagnostic tool: Is the work that I’m about in mission summarized in the way that Paul summarizes his mission in Acts 14?
For some, this may be a simple reminder to consider all three components. Sometimes you get missionaries who are so good at evangelism they forget that oh, the local church actually matters, or people who go overseas and are so caught up in the institution of the mission agency they forget to actually share their faith. For others, it may mean a serious reevaluation of their priorities. It does happen—mission creep, not mission creeps, we don’t want any of those, but “mission creep” happens. All of you know it. It happens in a school, it happens in a business, it happens in a party, and it happens that your mission slowly creeps away from the one thing that make Christian mission uniquely Christian, and it happens on the mission field. You have one set of purposes in mind when you land, and years later you’re doing something entirely different. That’s the first implication.
Here’s the second implication. And if that was for missionaries and other workers, this is for most of us and our church: We should aim, implication number two, we should aim with our missions budget to support missionaries, mission institutions, who have for their goals the things that we see in Acts 14.
Now listen, there is certainly a place for Christians to support all manner of good works, in NGOs or development programs or initiatives designed for human flourishing and many of us will choose to support those personally because we care about them, and a few of those may be items in a church budget. Think of it as a kind of global diaconate ministry. Galatians 6:10 is a key text: Do good to all people as you have opportunity, especially to the household of faith. So there is the mission, what we are sent into the world to accomplish, Acts 14, Matthew 28, make disciples, baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Do you see how the Great Commission gives us really the same three things that we see in Acts 14? That there’s an inclusion of baptism, there’s teaching them, there’s discipleship, and the fact that you’re baptizing them in the triune name means that there’s some constituted church body into which you are baptizing them. Same thing, new converts, new communities, nurtured congregations.
So the implication is that as a church we want to be supporting those things. Galatians 6:10 says “as you have opportunity, do good to all people, especially the household of faith,” and so there may be things in our mission budget that fall under that “as you have opportunity” realm, and that’s good. We must keep in mind, however, that the specific task to which we are accountable is that task of the Great Commission. The work of the sent-out apostles should bear a strong resemblance to the work of our sent-out missionaries. There are thousands and tens of thousands of good things to do in the world, and we don’t want this message to be about not doing those in your own Christian walk, and yet as a church we realize we are finite creatures with finite time, finite resources, finite abilities. Therefore, our mission’s strategy must have priorities.
And that means, first of all, we want to support godly men and women, mature in their faith, like-minded in their theological convictions, who have as their aim evangelism, discipleship, church planting. Because we realize that if everyone agrees with, I mean, that’s good, no one, no one, no Christian anywhere, almost anywhere, is going to say “yeah, don’t do those things.” But when you say they really are priorities, as Peter Drucker famously said, “you don’t have priorities unless you have posteriorities.”
Prior/head, posterior/[sound effect], okay?
If there, you’re not, you don’t have priorities unless you establish some things that you won’t do in order that you can do those things, and that’s where it gets hard. Because it means that the church with finite time, finite people, finite resources, will not be able to do every good thing that you’re passionate about, and there will be times that you say “pastor, here’s this great new opportunity,” and we might say “bless you, I’m so glad you’re involved in that, maybe we can pray for you.” “Yeah, but, but, it, it doesn’t really count unless the church is announcing it and supporting it and has money behind it and a room reserved for it.” Well, there’s not enough money and not enough rooms for all of the good things that you want to do, I hope. And so there are hard decisions sometimes to say in order to say “yes” to the mission of the mission of the church, we cannot say yes to everything else.
And come back tonight because we’ll talk a little bit about what those priorities might look like, even with that mission, in a world where there are still nearly three billion people who do not know the name of Christ.
Here’s the third implication, and this is just as important, maybe even more important than the other two: You, and I mean not just “y’all,” you, you, you, everyone listening to this, you should consider whether God might call you to be engaged in this work. You should consider that if the church saw these gifts, sent you out, you would be willing to go. Would you say the words of this beautiful song that we heard moments ago: “Here I am, Lord, it is I, Lord. I have heard your calling in the night”?
Maybe even in a sermon like this, that has been filled with definition and precision and let’s get everything right, maybe there’s something in your that’s, that’s I want to do that. Maybe you’re, maybe you’re eight years old and you feel like you want to do that. Tell mom and dad “someday I want to do that, what Pastor Kevin was talking about, I want a church to send me somewhere so people can know Jesus.”
Maybe you’re recently retired. Maybe you have a young family and you don’t know how in the world it could work. But as you hear this, and as you hear the missionary mandate, and as you hear of God’s work around the world, there’s something in you saying “I want to do that, would you send me? Would you help me to know what gifts I have and where I might go?” We would be remiss if we had a mission’s conference without some call to consider missionary service. I think two of the signs of a healthy church, two of the best signs, that you’re raising up men for pastoral ministry and that you’re sending out men and women and students and families for the mission of the church.
I’ll finish here with this final thought. It’s found in verse 22. We read there that Paul and Barnabas strengthened the souls of the disciples, encouraged them to continue in the faith, and informed them that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. A key aspect in their missionary service and, indeed, a key aspect in their discipleship to these new believers, was the reality of suffering. Here we are at the end of the first missionary journey and if you know the book of Acts, you know Paul’s already been threatened, attacked, stoned, dragged out of the city, left for dead. If the call to be a Christian is a summons to carry your cross, how much more the call to take the Christian message to those who have not heard. The call to be a Christian, the call to bring the Gospel to others, is a call for joy and it is a call for suffering, through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.
One of the things you might think about, if your life is filled with tribulations right now, is well then, I guess God might be making my way to the kingdom of God. ‘Cause that’s how you get there.
In some ways, we have it easier than Paul and Barnabas. Travel is easier, communication is easier, medical care, hygiene are better. You know, even a hundred or two hundred years ago when missionaries would go and they would get on a boat and they would go with their own coffin because they were never coming back, and now you can travel and you can FaceTime and you can e-mail and you can still keep up with your, your sports teams and your local news, and there are many ways that it’s easier.
But in other ways, the work of a missionary is even harder. I don’t know if you’ve ever considered this, but most of today’s missionaries have a far greater cultural gap to cross than Paul did, the great missionary. Paul didn’t have to learn a new language; now it helped he already knew several, but he didn’t have to learn a new language. He traveled within the borders of the Roman Empire. He ministered among those who shared something of the same educational system, political tradition. Sending an American to Indonesia or a Korean to Eastern Europe or a Brazilian to West Africa will likely mean greater cross-cultural pains than what the Apostle Paul experienced.
So in the end, it’s not terribly helpful to compare which missionary work is harder in one century versus another. If we are faithfully proclaiming the Gospel to those who don’t know Him, there will always be challenges, there will always be the promise of tribulation, which means whatever difficulties, whether unique to our century or mitigated by our technology, the call to go is a call to suffer.
But consider that the call to go, there is also a call to send. You’ve heard the line before. There are really only three options with the Great Commission: Go, send, or disobey. Those are the three things.
So what is your role? Maybe you’re not one of the goers. I’m not; I’m here. I’m not among an unreached people group. You know, I’m among all sorts of Christians most of my life, many good churches in Charlotte. I would never say I’m a missionary. So I’ve not gone. There’s no shame in not going. But there is shame if we are not part of sending the goers to get there. All of us have a part to play in the great task of missionary mobilization.
Missions may not be your “thing.” You may not be on the missions committee. You may be, you know, engaged in, you know, youth ministry is your thing, or Presbyterian history is your thing, or systematic theology is your thing, or pro-life is your thing; that’s fine. We all have different “things” that get us excited.
But let me say it this way: Even if you think “missions is not my thing,” the work of the mission of the church must be all of our things. For missionaries are not superheroes, they are servants, servants of God, servants of others, servants of the Word. Missionaries must first and foremost be people of the Word, and we who send them out want to send out our very best, that they might know the Word, believe the Word, announce the Word, teach the Word…. That’s why they go, that’s why we send. For how will the nations call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?
Christ Covenant Church, it’s my hope and prayer and it does not ultimately matter what my hope and my prayer is, I believe it’s God’s desire for us as a church, that we would see in the years ahead our missionary dollars increase, our missionary footprint expand, the number of people we send out in missionary service go up and up. We have such a rich history, there is so much good that has been going on and is currently going on, and I hope that in the years ahead we will only with increasing measure be known in our church and in our denomination and around the world, that is a great missions-minded church. That is a great church for missionaries to be sent from, that is a church that loves missions, sends out missionaries, understands the unique task given to the church of Jesus Christ. For if the Church of Jesus Christ does not win converts, and disciple new believers, and plant healthy churches, no other people on earth will do it. It’s our task, our mission, to God be the glory.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, we pray you give us understanding and clarity on these things, for they do have very real practical implications and applications for how some may spend their time or their lives, our resources, our resources, our people, our sons, our daughters. Lord, we want to be about this great task of reaching those who have never heard that they might know the name of Jesus Christ, the only name given among men whereby we must be saved. So steel us to this task with great resolve, with sacrifice, with energy, and we pray that you would give us the privilege more and more to be a part of your great mission on the earth. In Jesus we pray. Amen.