Mission Myth 7: We’re All Missionaries

I’ve been commenting on an article by Shane Bennett that appeared several years ago in Missions Catalyst.

In his two-part post on Top Ten Myths about Missions , Bennett explained:

I want to understand how the average Lou and Sue, sitting in the pew, think about missions stuff. … From what I’ve seen there are some serious misconceptions floating around in our churches, at least some of our churches. We could call these collective assumptions, beliefs that simply don’t reflect reality, “myths.”

If you want to read all ten myths now, check out the article online. You can see my other articles on this topic by choosing God:World under “Categories” on the right-hand column of my blog page.

Myth #7: It’s All Missions

One of my early attempts to share my passion for unreached nations took place a small country church some years ago. I gave them my best. Even so, I’m sure the predominant thought was, “Isn’t that youngster a dear,” not “Let’s go to the ends of the earth!” The pastor also felt it necessary to mitigate my remarks and blunt my passion for the unreached by assuring his flock, “We’re all missionaries to our neighborhoods and workplaces!” I was thoroughly deflated.

If you’re a white 75-year-old named Mrs. Johnson and your neighborhood consists predominately of Arabic-speaking Yemenis with a smattering of “Goth” teenagers thrown in, and you’re building relationships with them because you love them and love Jesus, then, yeah, you’re a missionary to your neighborhood. Otherwise, maybe you’re not.

Not all outward efforts for the gospel is [sic] missions. Not all that is good and “of Jesus,” is “missions.” That doesn’t mean it’s not good, just that it’s not missions.

I first became aware of this myth years ago when I was looking for clipart to highlight our annual mission conference. All I could find were cartoons depicting what I would call community service projects: kids painting a church building or teens holding a car wash or raking leaves. They were labeled “missions” but there was nothing cross-cultural about any of them.

My hope that things had improved in the intervening years was dashed when I received a letter from a teenager raising support for his week long “mission trip.” His church had arranged for the youth group to go bag dried beans. Yup. They were driving several hours away to help an organization that sells soup mix to support poor people. I’m sure this group does a fine job of assisting those in need. But these kids would not even come in contact with an unbeliever, much less one from a different culture. As Bennett pointed out above, it’s  good, but it’s not missions.

I had just finished writing this post when I received an email from our church further muddying the difference between mission and outreach (I’ve omitted some redundant text):

Another area of opportunity exists in Local Ministries. Have you considered forming a Group with the purpose of volunteering together …? This is a meaningful opportunity to be missional as a group. … [T]hink about starting a new group with the singular purpose of serving together in this outreach to our city. … What better way to be missional than doing it together in a Group?

Again, our church is equating missions with local ministry. I don’t want to diminish the importance of reaching out to our own culture. Evangelism is essential. We are called to love our neighbors. That is what our church is planning, and I’m excited to get involved.

Missions, however, goes a step further. If the first Christians had stayed within their own cultures, only the Jews would’ve ever heard about Jesus. Instead, God sent Paul to the Greeks and Romans. Mark spread the gospel in Egypt. Thomas ended up in India. Today’s missionaries follow in their footsteps.

“Missions” involves crossing some sort of barrier that would otherwise limit the spread if the Gospel. These barriers might be cultural, linguistic, or physical, to name a few. The point is that unless someone steps out of their familiar comfort zone, the folks on the other side of the barrier will not be reached.

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