By Jeff Goins, Editor
Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. (Genesis 12:1)
We’re on a mission from God. (Elwood Blues)
In the strictest sense of the word, the very first “missionary” mentioned in the Bible is Abram. God calls him out of Ur to a place he’s never seen, forcing him to depend on God’s provision and leading. Abram’s life is a model for our own story of learning to trust God and to venture out into the unknown. As Abram’s faith increases, God entrusts resources to him not only for his own good, but so that through him all nations will be blessed. It’s an example of the missional life every believer is called to live.
The Christian faith has always been a missionary faith. The word “missionary” means someone who is sent on a mission. It’s the same word from which we get the New Testament office of apostle (literally meaning one who is sent with the authority of the sender).
God’s intentions have always been to bless a specific group of people in order that they may bless the multitudes. We see this in his calling out of Abram, in the history of Israel, as well as in the parables about the kingdom of God. Just as Abraham was blessed not as an end to itself, but rather to be a blessing, so are we given gifts and responsibilities in order that we may share them with others, including the saving knowledge of Christ. That’s what it means to be a missionary — to step out in faith and obedience to God, sharing what you have been given with others.
So, why are not all, in a sense, missionaries?
I posted a blog a few weeks ago about living missionally, in which I wrote, “I hate the word ‘missionary.'” A few people took offense at that (probably because I’m what you would probably call a vocational missionary), but I stand by my conviction that the word itself isn’t helpful (at least not in America), much less the connotation that certain people’s jobs consist of going to make civilized Christians out of the savages while the rest of us sit on our butts, occasionally hosting potlucks and reading missionary support letters.
In reality, all followers of Christ are missionaries. I know that such a statement sounds like an over-generalization; after all, aren’t some called to be evangelists, while others are called to other roles in the church? However, I really believe that this is part of the good news of the Gospel of Jesus, part of what excited Martin Luther so much about the idea of a “universal priesthood” — that we can all engage in the mission of God, that the distinction between the sacred and profane has been removed. Every Christian is a priest; every child of God has been called and destined for good works; every follower of Jesus is on a mission.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not suggesting that we all quit our day jobs and move to Africa (although, I’m not dismissing that, either). As someone once put it, you are a full-time minister disguised as a doctor, lawyer, stay-at-home mother, teacher, or whatever. My friend who had just finished up a year of full-time missions told me, “I’ve been spending the past year trying to learn how to make ministry my life, but now I am learning how to make life my ministry.” Aren’t we all.
Even God himself is a missionary, coming to earth in human form to perform his most elaborate mission of redemption ever. What better example do we have than the missional Father, Son, and Spirit? This is the God is Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who met Moses on the mountain and David at the tabernacle. The God who would not be contained by man-made buildings or confined to statues and idols. He is the God who is more often found in the desert than in the market place. He is the Lord, strong and mighty, a tent-dwelling deity, who moves as unpredictably as the wind.
Of course, missionaries come in different shapes and sizes. Some are goers, and others are senders. Some plant churches, and others start kingdom-minded businesses. There are those who physically go on mission trips, and some who provide resources and support for to make such projects possible. Even others simply share Christ with their neighbors, friends, and perfect strangers.
What particularly saddens me, though, is that some Christians sense God’s calling in their lives, but they’re afraid of what it might cost them. So, they decide that they are really “called” to be senders, and they make all kinds of excuses for why they can’t go to the nations or share hope with their neighbors. They shirk their responsibility of making the Gospel of Jesus known, believing the lie that they are destined to live a nominal, un-adventurous life, consisting of nothing more than paying the bills and raising nice kids who don’t cuss. What a crime against the Christianity that the martyrs bled for. What a disservice to the message that Jesus taught and lived. What an insult against the overarching story of Scripture.
Just for a moment, I would like you to set aside all preconceived ideas about who or what a missionary is. I would like you to consider that maybe God wants more for you than just a comfortable, churchgoing Christian faith. I would like you to consider that we are all goers, all full-time ministers “on a mission from God” (as the Blues Brothers would say).
We must learn to leave home like Abram, to break away from what family, friends, and society may expect of us, and find the inheritance that God has promised us. The tricky part is that when we depart, we may not completely know where we’re going or what we’ll be doing. But when we do, we’ll be in great company.
The calling may require a fight, as it did for Caleb and Joshua. Like many of the prophets, we may feel less than adequate for the job. But we must remember: the journey itself will sanctify us. The snares and the trials will make us holy. God himself will make us worth vessels. Like Moses, Paul, or even Jake and Elwood, we are not defined or limited by our past, but rather we are qualified for the job because of the calling.
What about your life would change today if you accepted and submitted to the fact that you are, indeed, on a mission from God?
Jeff graduated from Illinois College, a small liberal arts school, with a degree in Spanish and Religion. He lives in Nashville, TN. He works for Adventures in Missions, edits this silly little magazine, and loves to do new things. He just got married in January. Check out his blog: Pilgrimage of the Heart.