We can be an agent of temptation. – “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come!” (Luke 17:1) Can you recall a situation in which you might have tempted someone to sin recently?
We can cause sin. – “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6) Can you clearly remember the last time you caused someone to sin? If not, is that a history that’s doomed to repeat itself?
We can decide to be a hindrance and a ‘stumbling block.’ – “but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” (Romans 14:13) It does seem from this text that believers have the ability to decide not to do that which might harm another. Have you purposefully made decisions to be a hindrance or stumbling block to another?
We can excessively defend our rights in such a way that weakens others. – “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” (1 Corinthians 8:13) And, “But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. (1 Corinthians 8:9) This would include defending our freedom in Christ by doing what is perfectly fine for us in front of those who do not yet have that freedom. Have you declared your rights or acted in such a way to be the demise of another?
We can manhandle scripture. – “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15) This gets tricky. It is far too easy to get the approval of others for your actions when your peer group has all chosen to interpret or handle scripture in a way that’s most convenient for them. Have you misconceived scripture in such a way that enforces or invites another to sin?
We can be unhelpful. – “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12) Have you been unhelpful to another in need and be a catalyst in their sin?
We can dress inappropriately. – “Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness with good works. Before anyone has a brain rupture here, that’s guys and gals, and not, in my opinion to be taken absolutely literally. But there is a principle here. There are two questions to be considered here; first, “Am I adorning myself in such a way that will tempt others or cause them to sin?’ and second, “Am I doing it on purpose?” Feel free to unload on me in the comment section on this one.
We can be offensive. – “Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:32) Notice that this short verse includes everyone. We can be offensive to believers and unbelievers. Do you tend to be offensive to others?
We can be boastful. – “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) Has your boastfulness boastfulness deconstructed another or cause them to sin or stumble?
We can be doubtful. – “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23) You know when you’re doubtful about a particular action. Others know hen you’re doubtful too. They sense it. But, operating from doubt or ‘letting the chips fall where they may in our actions can wreak havoc in the lives of others. Has something you’ve been doubtful about pushed another towards sin?
We can love falsely. – “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; …” (1 Corinthians 13) Have you faked love, and has this fake love caused another to sin or stumble?
We can be oblivious to the struggles of others. – “Let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:20) Now, this doesn’t justify heresy hunters or sin skinners, but neither does it permit us, as we go about the course of our daily lives, to ignore the works of service (Ephesians 2:10) that God places before us. Has your being oblivious or aloof caused another to sin or stumble?
This is not intended to be a hit list or a judgmental tirade. This should not be used to bolster your Pharisaism. This is a sifter of self-reflection. When ever I have read the warnings Jesus gave in Luke 17, Matthew 18, and Mark 9, to those who would cause others to sin or stumble, I probably thought “Wow! I’m glad I’m not one of those guys.” but in a bit of my own self-reflection today, I can clearly see that I have. I am thankful I can go to the one who can unburden me. How about you?
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
What is humankind’s mission? That’s where it gets a little sticky. With the renewed fervor in Making Disciples, many are saying that ‘Making Disciples is the mission.’ I’m sure you’ve heard that as well. Let’s repeat that to make it very clear.
“Making Disciples IS The Mission.”
Is that too encompassing? Can Humankind’s mission be reduced to ‘just’ Making Disciples? If not, what other ‘missions’ are there?
Is the quip, “That might be your mission, but it’s not mine,” substantiated by the possible existence of other missions?
Is the making of disciples a sub-mission of humankind’s overarching mission, or are all other missions sub-missions of Making Disciples?
Personally, I see genuine discipleship as multifaceted. Under the umbrella of discipleship, at least as delineated in the Great Co-mission, is the imperative “Go” (Matthew 28:19), which includes ‘bringing the gospel message to others (Isaiah 52:7) (Romans 10:15) (Nahum 1:15) (John 17:20), Baptism, and the teaching of others ALL that Christ commanded. What other mission falls outside of “All that Jesus commanded?”
If there is more than one mission, then we had better dedicate ourselves to discovering what our particular mission is in the grand scope of possible missions. If there is only one mission, that of making disciples, then I suppose we should figure out all that mission entails and see what role/s we will play in it. A few questions;
1. Is there only one mission for humankind?
2. Is Making Disciples ‘The Mission?’
3. What other missions, if there are others, would not be covered under ‘All that Christ commanded?”
Your Christology, or theology of Christ is the starting point of your mission. I say ‘your mission,’ because there are differing views about who Christ is and what His message was. These different views, when it comes to mission, have different results. Those who claim to follow Christ can either be transformed into His image by Him and His word and lay hold of it as if hitching a ride, or mold their image of Christ into something that fits their mission. Invariably, when the trajectory of Christ’s mission is skewed by our own independent declarations of who we think Christ is and what His message is, we end up with what appears to be genuine movement, but in reality it’s just fruitless mimicry. There are other gospels (Galatians 1:6-8), other Jesus’ (2 Corinthians 11:14), other spirits (1 Timothy 4:1), and other missions. (Acts 20:29–30)
When the trajectory of Christ’s mission is skewed by our own independent declarations of who we think Christ is and what His message is, we end up with what appears to be genuine movement, but in reality it’s just fruitless mimicry.
For those whose ‘hearts are in the right place,’ but are not seeing missions’ fruit, an examination, or reexamination of their Christology (Who Christ is and What His message is), is certainly wise and most likely warranted. A fruitless mission might be indicative of a foundation-less and speculative Christology. The diversity of understandings of the person of Christ are as prolific as the number denominations or non-denominations which claim his name. Having different insights about Christ’s manifold nature are good and healthy for the mission and her church, but positing or embracing ideas that are directly opposed to what Christ said about Himself are detrimental. When I speak of Christology, I operate on the assumption that Christ and His message, or gospel, are one. Christ is both the author and embodiment of His word. He is the Logos who speaks Logoi (Logos plural). For more along these lines, see the article; “Fracturing Jesus, The Gospel, and The Logos,”
Understanding who Christ is and what He has said about Himself and His mission are the Church’s means of propulsion and course correction. No mission, off mission, and fruitless mission, are all indications that Christ and His message (the gospel), have either been misunderstood or misappropriated. A few of questions;
1. Who is Christ?
2. What is His message?
3. What are the fruit of mission?
“If God is a missionary God, and we are created in His image, then the people of God should be a missionary people.” ~ Miguel Labrador
Seems somewhat reasonable, doesn’t it?
The problem is one of language. Should God’s people be missionary-ish? I believe they should. Should all God’s people be ‘missionaries’ in the most common understanding of the word? Let’s consider these before answering;
- “Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor.”
This is a quote from the famous 19th Century British pastor and theologian, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. He was a megachurch Pastor in his day. He was called ‘The Prince of Preachers,’ and it is estimated that he presented the gospel to over 10 million people in his life. That’s Astounding! If only .01% went on to be earnest followers of Christ, then he would have made 1000 disciples!
I don’t think that Spurgeon was inferring that every believer had to pack their stuff and head to some secret and dangerous location in the 10/40 window. I believe he was saying that every believer should embrace their sent-ness and adopt attitudes and actions that reflect God’s ‘on the move’ nature.
Jesus was the archetypal missionary. 40 times in the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to himself as “sent” on a mission. He left his home and glory in heaven, left his family, and left his culture to come to the earth as a missionary to reach a people who without that sent-ness never been reconciled with the Father.
Jesus also, it seems, inferred that every believer is sent. “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world (John 17:18).” There is the question of scope. Was Jesus truly referring to EVERY BELIEVER in John 17? If He was, then is there really such a thing as a missionary subset of believers?
- Tim Keller communicates a similar concept in Center Church. He says, “Not only the apostles but every Christian did evangelism — and they did so endlessly. Numerous passages indicate that every Christian was expected to evangelize, follow-up, nurture, and teach people the Word. This happened relationally — one person bringing the gospel to another within the context of a relationship.”
- Winkie Pratney, New Zealand evangelist and author, says, “Every Christian a missionary; every non-Christian a mission-field.”
- Allen Turner says that, The “going” that God commands of His people is not limited to an elite group of super-Christians, even as it was not limited to the apostles to whom it was first given. Further, it is not limited to far away places that inevitably involve the crossing of large bodies of salt water. On the contrary, the Lord calls every Christian to be a missionary. In doing so, He commands all of us to “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Yes, I realize that the Lord first directed this to His apostles, but most interpreters have understood that this wasn’t limited to them alone. In fact, and this by way of extension, it is every Christian’s “call” to the mission field—a field made up not only of exotic sounding places and far away locations, but one that includes our houses, our neighborhoods, and our communities. It includes the factories and offices where we work and the schools we attend. In reality, the mission field may be as unromantic and unexotic as that area just over our backyard fences. In other words, although we Christians are no longer “of the world,” through the precious blood of Jesus Christ, we are still “in the world” (John 17:6-19), and it is to this world—the one in which we live every day—that the Lord has called us to be missionaries.
- Eddie Arthur says that, “Some think that only ‘some people GO’ – the rest of us can stay behind and pray and give. But, this just isn’t what the Bible story is getting at. God is on a mission and we are called to be followers of this missional God. Mission isn’t something we are to do, it is what we are. To ask whether All Christians are called to be missionaries is a bit like asking whether all dogs should have four legs.
- Ernest Goodman says that, “The new paradigm is simple: all Christians are missionaries. They must be, because none of us are at “home.” Even if your ministry is to a group of people that you grew up with- a group that looks, talks, and acts just like you- you must recognize that your transformation in Christ necessarily makes you an outsider- a foreigner- to even your own culture. You can’t afford to assume that you are ministering in your own context. You don’t have a context in the world anymore.”
I have heard variations on this theme, namely that “Simply living in the spirit of Jesus Christ is a powerful witness to those around us and marks us out as a missionaries in the modern world,” but in my view, it lacks intentionality and the seemingly imperative sent-ness.
All of those examples, and many more, would seem to confirm that yes, indeed, all Christians should be considered missionaries.
Whose Job is missions anyway?
Now let’s look at some opposing views.
- Charles Ryrie has pointed out that we must distinguish between a general practice in the church and a special gift which God gives to some in that area.
- Herbert Kane has suggested that although it is not possible to give a flawless, scientific definition of a missionary, the following one should suffice: In the traditional sense the term missionary has been reserved for those who have been called by God to a full-time ministry of the Word and prayer (Acts 6:4), and who have crossed geographical and/or cultural boundaries (Acts 22:21) to preach the gospel in those areas of the world where Jesus Christ is largely, if not entirely unknown (Rom. 15:20). Not everyone, I think, fits THAT description of a missionary.
- Guy Muse, a fellow laborer and missionary here in Ecuador says that; “One of the common misconceptions about missions is that all believers are missionaries. It continues to be stated so often that few question the validity of this oft quoted misconception making the rounds from our pulpits and missions conferences. I truly wish it were true, but frequent repetition does not make it so. I believe we need to correct the language we are using and stop calling all believers missionaries.
- Gordon Olson says it well when he states: “If every Christian is already considered a missionary, then all can stay put where they are, and nobody needs to get up and go anywhere to preach the gospel. But if our only concern is to witness where we are, how will people in unevangelized areas ever hear the gospel?”
Guy also says that; “The Great Commission is taking the Gospel to our Jerusalem. This is where we live. It is where most of our time, efforts and ministry are centered. But Holy Spirit empowered believers are likewise charged to be His witnesses to their Judea, Samaria, and, yes: the ends of the earth–the nations. When we begin to move beyond our Jerusalem and seek to engage our Judea, Samaria, and the nations–then, we become misionaries–the sent ones that we are meant to be.” (You can read his blog post in full here.
Guy concludes by saying that;
“Everyone may indeed NOT be a missionary, but it is my belief that we should deliberately seek to do everything in our power to make sure we ARE missionaries.”
Some personal thoughts; playing ‘devil’s advocate in my head…
- As I stated before, it’s a problem of language. The concept of a missionary can be traced to Acts 13:2-3. During a revival, God told the church to send out Paul and Barnabas. While every believer within the nascent church was a witness, it was the Spirit who separated Paul and Barnabas to be missionaries. The elements of the missionary call were these: God called specific individuals, the church confirmed the call, the selected ones went away to minister, and they reported back to the sending church.
- This description does not necessarily fit every Christian, and to say that every believer is a missionary will only make a useful term meaningless. (I am not convinced of my counter-argument here)
- Further, there are ‘other’ works and words to consider. All believers may be ‘witnesses,’ (Acts 1:8) but not missionaries. We may all be ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-20), or the gospel message (Christians are God’s ambassadors in that they have been “approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel” (1 Thessalonians 2:4), but not ‘missionaries.’ We may all, though there is some debate, be commissioned to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 20:18-20) but again, not be missionaries.
I can’t remember where I read or heard this idea, but it goes something like this;
“If everyone is a missionary and everything we do is missions, everyone that is unreached will remain unreached.”
This statement seems to overreach, pun intended, but I understand it’s point. While not every believer may properly be called a “missionary” by the traditional definition (e.g. someone who is sent by The Church for the purpose of growing The Church in a new and different place among unreached or under-reached people groups,) missionary-ish living should characterize the life of every believer.
Robert C. Shannon said,
“Never pity missionaries; envy them. They are where the real action is — where life and death, sin and grace, Heaven and Hell converge.”
Is that helpful or does it propagate a myth?
There will be a second and maybe even a third part to this blog, but let’s consider these three questions;
1. How should we, in the light of the arguments presented above define ‘mission?’
2. How should we, in the light of the arguments presented above describe mission work?
3. Bottom line; Are you comfortable with the idea that “Every believer should be a missionary?” Why or Why not?