The yawning gap

Sending missionaries abroad is boring. It belongs to a bygone pioneering age. It’s part of cultural imperialism. It’s no longer necessary. It’s not a priority.

No-one would really say it, but I would suggest that, on the face of it, many churches are not excited about world mission. The level of interest is symbolised by those tired-looking missionary boards in some church halls.

 

For a while I thought it was just me and our church, but then got involved with the Affinity World Focus team – a group of churches and mission agencies set up to encourage world mission – and I realised that it is much more common that churches don’t support world mission as they used to.

That’s not to say there’s not some great work being done, or that every mission agency is struggling. But you only need to look at the dominant themes of most conferences on offer this year to realise that world mission is not top of the bill. Tour the conference exhibition areas and look at the faces of those despondent people standing at the mission agency stalls (if indeed they are even allowed to exhibit), wondering whether they will achieve anything more than aching legs and a few students wondering how to spice up their year off with a bit of travel.

Let me suggest a few reasons why this is so:

  • Trans-national gospel work is not being talked about as a central part of the mission of the church.
  • We can underplay the doctrine that the Christian life involves sacrificial service and the possibility of suffering. The growth area is short-term mission for a few months. The idea of a couple with a family uprooting themselves and inflicting all manner of sacrifice and suffering on their children seems quite unreasonable to many of us. Adventure holidays appeal, perhaps even dangerous ones, but the draining burden of a long-term calling is not an option we want to consider.
  • The reality is that people from many nations are here on our doorstep. Most of us in towns and cities have people near us recently arrived from many parts of the globe and there is a whole world of opportunity to speak the gospel to them.
  • Church planting is more interesting and seems to give more immediate results.
  • International travel is no longer a novelty, so it does not seem so remarkable to be going abroad and we live in an information age when the internet can bring us pictures of people and places from all over the world. So inevitably there is less interest in missionary reports.
  • Many churches don’t gather as one very often. For most of us the Sunday morning meeting is the ‘biggie’ with competition for news items to cover. For good reasons, we have moved over to small groups during the week. One by-product of this is less frequent prayer meetings – historically a typical time for missionary reporting and envisioning.

Perhaps Christians and churches need a renewed vision for mission. Evangelising my friends, family and neighbours is essential. Church planting is necessary. Working amongst international groups in our cities is great. But we also need to “proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns” (Luke 4:43) and to “preach the gospel where Christ is not known” (Romans 15:20).

Does your church need to put world mission closer to the heart of its ministry – with everything from publicity, prayer items, sermon applications and testimonies keeping it on the radar?

And wouldn’t it be great if you and your church had an ambition to send one gospel worker to the world this decade – or perhaps we could stretch to two?

This article first appeared in the August issue of Evangelicals Now and is used with their permission


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