Thank God for the Word, Missions

by Derek Gentle

Missions is a word that had to be. It is not a Biblical word, but it is a Biblical concept. It describes evangelism, but a particular kind of evangelism, that which crosses geographical and/or cultural boundaries. It gives us a handle on ministry which goes to people unlike us and to places away from us.

Sometimes a group will take on a "mission project" and take flowers and cards to some sweet elderly ladies at the nursing home. That is a great thing to do and certainly, there are some lonely people there who need the love and attention but it isn't a ministry which crosses cultural or geographical boundaries. That's why we have the word missions.

Sometimes we hear people make remarks about missions beginning at home. If it is at home, with people like ourselves, it by definition, isn't missions. It may be evangelism. It may be ministry. It may be a wonderful thing. But it isn't missions. Often when people make this comment, they are arguing for keeping the ministry resources at home instead of taking it overseas or across cultural boundaries. I had a professor in seminary who commented that, "Missions may begin at home, but selfishness stays there."

Missions is a word which had to be because it forces us to think across the boundaries of race and culture. Most of our churches are homogenous; missions is not. Missions makes us think in an unselfish mode. Our church doesn't grow and our budget isn't directly increased by this kind of work. The concept of missions forces us to think globally and about people from a "God's eye point of view."

"The question is, How do we win the world to Christ ... with a minimum of fuss and bother?" (Cartoonist Doug Hall in Leadership) That brings it out. The word missions emphasizes that effort is required. Crossing the street is no mission and working with people who are already your neighbors is no great inconvenience.

The word missions forces us to think in terms of eternity and not just in the here and now. What matters in the truly long term? For no other reason would people learn a new language and adapt to a new diet and live with less luxury, if not for the fact that it will matter forever.

The souls of our neighbors are no less precious to God than those across the world. Sometimes, missions has a halo around it which might make one think so. But that is the result of the extreme sacrifices made by so many who have faithfully served through the years. Nevertheless, this word, missions, has served to remind us that our own people are no more precious to God than those from very different cultures or in the most inaccessible places. It reminds us that evangelism is a dual effort, involving both Jerusalem and the uttermost parts of the earth. And that as stewards of the gospel, it is our responsibility to get the message to them as well as our own.