Let’s face it, it’s much easier to leave Jesus out of missions. He gums up the works. Messes things up. Makes them awkward.
I’m part of an organization that mobilizes business for missions work around the world. It’s an awesome company, doing awesome work, both here and abroad. But I’ve noticed something interesting:
When I share with our staff (many who are not Christians) about the missions work we do, it’s so easy to tell them about the schools and the medical clinics we’ve helped start. It’s the stories about church planting and the proclamation of Jesus I struggle to craft. The excitement quickly morphs into uncomfortable silence. “Why’d you have to go and bring Him up?”
That leaves me in an interesting spot and pondering what will likely be a controversial statement for some of you:
Missions is about the proclamation of Jesus Christ and the establishment of The Church.
I know, I know, some of you are rushing to your Bible (or the latest millennial magazine article) to show me why I’m wrong. You’ll (mis)quote Francis of Assisi who (never really) said “preach the Gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words.” No one really knows where that came from by the way, as Assisi was a bold proclaimer of Jesus in everything that he did. Personally, I prefer Ed Stetzer’s rewrite:
“Preach the Gospel at all times, and because it’s necessary, use words.”
We humans have a unique ability to overcorrect, and today’s generation is understandably energized by “doing good.” That is a beautiful thing. We must do good works, serve the poor, respond to the oppressed, care for the orphan and the least of these (I can quote you all those scriptures, too) to live out or roles as Christ-followers in this world. But if the proclamation of the Gospel and the declaration of Jesus is not central, not on our lips, not the ultimate point, then we are not engaging in New Testament missions work.
Good works will accompany the proclamation of Jesus, but they cannot replace it. Jesus is the game changer.
I think there are two main reasons modern christians get uncomfortable with the idea of Gospel-proclamation and expansion of The Church as the ultimate focus of missions work:
1. Western Cynicism Toward The Church: I think many have become disillusioned with the idea of church in our western sphere. Pick your poison: too traditional, too institutional, poor leadership, too personality driven, too wealthy, too inward focused, too _____________. Because we’ve embraced cynicism toward The Church here, we don’t get real excited about the idea of replicating it elsewhere. But The Church, broken and imperfect, is God’s idea and has been His mechanism for spreading the Gospel message and His Kingdom to a broken and imperfect world. We’ve got 2000+ years to prove it.
2. Our Obsession with Being Liked: It’s a “how many likes can I get” world out there. I know, because I’m engaged in it, too. Addressing social ills and championing charitable endeavors garner positive media attention and “good feelings” from outsiders. Who doesn’t rally around anti-sex-trafficking and clean water? Adding Jesus to the mix just stirs up controversy and narrows our platform. And to make things worse, proclamation is associated with the obnoxious bull-horn preacher standing on his soap box and reading hellfire verses from the King James outside local sporting events. Who wants to be that guy? It’s easier to focus on the good we’re doing and just keep Jesus to ourselves. And in that, I fear we lose the whole point.
Just to be clear…
When we see the hungry, we feed them. When we see the naked, we clothe them, When we see the uneducated, we teach them. When we see marginalized and abused, we fight for them. But to everyone, at all times, and in all ways, we must proclaim the deity of Jesus, and His life, death, and resurrection as the only hope for this broken world.
With our mouths.
It’s not “we’re right and you’re wrong,” it’s “we’re all wrong and Jesus is the only One who can make things right.”
Missions cannot be over-simplified to “do good.” We must embrace the proclamation of Jesus (with our words) and the establishment of His Church to the ends of the earth. Good works will accompany our proclamation, but they cannot replace it. Let’s make sure that Jesus is “messing up” our missions work.