The End of Missions?

17 03 2008

Here’s a modest proposal to churches and church leaders that may jeopardize my future with one of the greatest missions sending organizations of modern Christianity:

Dismantle, board up, discontinue, end and terminate your missions programs.

Now before you turn off the sound bite machine, let me qualify my statement: if we follow Jesus, we have to be about carrying out his “great commission” of Matthew 28:19-20; and sending missionaries around the world is an effective method of doing so.  What I would like to challenge is not the value of participating in the discipleship of others by supporting missionaries, but missions as it is in its current state.

To begin with, Jesus didn’t go on a mission.  He went native: the logos of God became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1).  In fact, he’s still deeply involved in this work – he told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them/us (John 14).  Such a disposition toward serving and loving can only be accurately described as incarnation, and stands in stark contrast to the idea of missions, which carries with it the connotation that there are fixed beginning and end points – we send teenagers on “missions trips,” encourage them to become “missionaries” at youth rallies, those of whom sign up splitting their time between being on “the field” and “on furlough” raising support.  

Thankfully, some folks get the nuance and realize that they’re deeply embedded in kingdom work, whether it’s  at an orphanage in Mexico or walking through a mall in Springfield.  I wasn’t one of those people growing up – my fidelity to the gospel tended to get turned up to 11 when duty called in the form of a short-term missions trip or a church-sponsored “outreach” to those poor, unsuspecting lost people who were playing with their kids at the community park on Saturday afternoons instead of handing out tracts or going to a church service like us.  The balance of my time was split between watching TV and making out with whatever girl I had just started going out with.  

I’m pretty sure my situation wasn’t rare, either.  Because for the few who really begin the hard work to incarnate Jesus into their everyday world, there are many, many more who are happy enough to just go on missions.

What would happen if we transformed our cold, predictable missions programs into white-knuckled incarnation initiatives? 

The School of Urban Missions becomes the School for Urban Incarnation.

Anglo missionaries to China become Chinese followers of Jesus, etc.

Congregations stop hinging on the church address and start hinging on their home addresses, where they’re incarnating Jesus in the neighborhood.

What if we ended missions and started incarnating Jesus?

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One response

17 03 2008
Jonathan

hey,

my friend steve knight just sent me a link to this blog. we need to talk! I’m an associate pastor at an ag church in NC, and after recent events with folks in my congregation, I understand the need for anonymity. I’m the assistant organizer for the charlotte emergent cohort, one of the largest, most diverse cohorts, and home to the “postmodern negro” Anthony Smith. You may have no clue what I’m talking about, but I feel the need to chat with you, brother. I’m sure we have plenty of stories to share. hit me up! I’m not sure if you can see my email address, but if not, hit me at my alternate: jointheconversation at gmail dot com.

peace.
-jonathan

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