Monday, July 21, 2014

Five current dangers to global missions

It is ironic that in the very day when it is possible to reach more people more quickly with the Gospel that there are significant dangers to the mission enterprise, especially from the Western world. These dangers may well significantly decrease the Western church's influence globally, a position that they have led for many years.

What are these dangers?

First, it is increasingly hard for many missionaries to raise their support. Missions is not cheap nor should we expect it to be. There is a cost associated with sending people globally to share the good news. Ironically, the costs are really no different than many of our domestic ministry efforts but our focus is so much on what serves us (our local church) that we are less likely to support ministry efforts further away and for which we get no direct benefit. 

Ironically, as many churches have reduced support for global missions, many of their parishioners have increased their support for missions at the expense of the general budgets because of their view of misplaced priorities.  Having said that it is also true that many congregations need to balance their overseas missions with local mission efforts. Acts 1:8 talks about Jerusalem (our city), Judea (our greater area), Samaria (the people nearby who are not like us) and the uttermost parts of the earth. Missions is walking across the street as well as crossing an ocean.

Second, many evangelicals don't really believe that lost people are truly lost and will spend eternity in hell. We have not done a good job of teaching the eternal realities of a relationship with God and the consequences of the lack of that eternal relationship. Scriptures are clear: People who don't know Jesus spend eternity without him and the name for that awful place is hell. Unless we are compelled to be God's ambassadors as Paul was (2 Corinthians 5:11-21) we will not value the mission enterprise highly.

Third, many churches have redefined missions in terms of humanitarian work rather than meeting the needs of the heart as well. Clean water, orphan care, poverty alleviation and concerns for sex trafficking are very important issues but solving these will not solve the eternal issue that Jesus came to solve which is a relationship with the living God who gives life and abundant life. 

All of our ministry should be holistic as Jesus's ministry was - he cared about the whole person. But he never cared about the whole person at the expense of hearts that needed forgiveness and wholeness. Often, compassion ministries will open the door for hearts to hear the good news but the first without the second is not missions.

Fourth, many ask if missions is simply not relevant in our day since there are many believers around the world. Let's just send money to national missionaries and let them do the rest. Reread the Great Commission in Matthew 28. It was a command to go to all the nations and make disciples until the end of the age. That is, until Christ returns. The job of missionaries is changing - from being primarily doers to being primarily equippers and partners with nationals globally but the need to go has not changed. Nor has the Great Commission been modified. 

Fifth, the world is increasingly seen as dangerous. So was the world in Paul's day at least in its response to the Gospel and those who bore the good news. The world has always been hostile to the Gospel. I am currently reading a history of Congo and the price that missionaries paid even in the past two centuries in that country. Yet much of the country knows Jesus because of those who were willing to live with the privations of life there and who were willing to risk their lives as well. If we only took the Gospel to places where the State Department has no travel warnings it would be a small number of countries indeed. Jesus gave his life for us. Are we willing to take risks for Him?

I am not pessimistic about missions at least in many quarters. Our own agency has the highest numbers of missionaries it has ever had for which I rejoice. At the same time I am aware that without vigilance our traditionally high value on missions can wane and that would be a great tragedy. 


Craig McClun said...

Amen. These are critical issues and questions. But the answers rest in obeying everything Jesus told us to do. Go. Disciple the people. And their nations.

Jim and Liz Baker said...

I hear you, TJ! It's interesting that, in some ways, #4 and #5 are practically contradictory... "we don't need to go, believers are already there - er, we shouldn't go because it's too risky (for us)." Sounds like the folks at the end of Luke 9 to me!
And we certainly need to work toward clarity on what ministering "holistically" means. Jesus never neglected the "hearts that needed forgiveness" precisely BECAUSE he was holistic... he knew that care for the "whole person" MUST include the heart and soul. Meeting physical or social needs as a stand-alone enterprise is not wholistic, it's worldly-mindedness.
It reminds me of a conversation I had with a mutual friend who challenged me that "holistic ministry, apart from the Gospel, will never make an eternal difference." My reply was (and remains) that "holistic ministry without the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus is NOT holistic."

JPL said...

Excellent insights and so true. We need a global missions renewal in our day.

Dustan said...

This article is spot on! Thank you. We are working on an episode that talks about a few of these issues. We must still go!


Greg Carter said...

A church ought to commit to a percentage of its budget being invested outside of serving its own members. Then, a determination of what goes to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the to ends of the earth. Where there is little opportunity to hear ought to receive the greater share of this appropriation. Where we can serve in our Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, that is our responsibility. The rest is missions: where we hire people (missionaries) as workers in distant vineyards.