Why Mission Matters (July-Aug 2010)

By Matt Dabbs

by Ryan Woods
July – August, 2010

I tried to be a missionary once. I failed. For two years I spent time in a ghetto suburb of Lisbon, Portugal trying to save the world. The world did not get saved. As a matter of fact I did not technically save anybody. I learned to love soccer, I spent time with teenagers and homeless men, and I grew my hair out. But missionaries are supposed to grow churches, see hordes of people come to Jesus, and perfect their altar calls.

I did none of those.

I helped my Angolan musician friend Rey Kuango write lyrics in English. I fed homeless folk and saw a community emerge at our church from their ranks. I provided a place to stay for my friend Nikko away from his cockroach-infested home, where his light fixture consisted of a light bulb and two wires that he shoved into the outlet. But I never performed an altar call. Being a missionary is nearly one of the hardest things I have ever done. But it was nothing compared to what it prepared me for later in my life of ministry.

Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 says “…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” This scripture has been core to our identity in the Churches of Christ, developing in us a sending mentality, reminding us of the transformation that happens around baptism, and the absolute invitation into the work of evangelism.

This passage, however, does not simply send us to do mission. The “go” that Jesus speaks of is not one of destination. There is no arrival implied in Jesus’ sending words. Rather, in the original language, Jesus’ words tell us that “as we are going” we are to make disciples, invite people into baptism, and teach what obedience looks like.

You see, if we believe that mission work is something that does not simply happen when we step foot onto foreign soil or speak a foreign language – but rather happens in our homes, neighborhoods, work places, grocery stores, and cafés – then our level of commitment to discipleship and evangelism have immediately multiplied exponentially. When ministry is dependent on my going to a particular place or destination I preclude the as-you-go mentality and replace it with a once-I-get-there attitude. Once-I-get-there is controllable. I control when I leave, I control if I leave, I control where I go, I control. When evangelism is defined as something that happens as-I-go, then I had better be ready for life to be messy.

I had better be ready to miss a mission committee meeting when my neighbors water main breaks and he is in need of help.

I had better be willing to stay at work late when my coworker opens up to me about his struggling marriage. I had better learn to accept that people might stop by my messy home uninvited.

I had better take seriously Peter’s words to “always be prepared to give an answer…” because that moment could happen anytime or anywhere, and often it will happen through my actions long before it happens through my words!

Jesus’ invitation to an as-you-are-going life was marked by such words as death, carrying your cross, dying to yourself, and loving your enemy. It is impossible, then, to follow Jesus down this path of being available to the world as-we-go, all the time, at any moment, without following him down the path to death.

Death is a core tenet of the Christian faith. We are to die to ourselves daily to live for the world. We are to die to ourselves daily to allow the Spirit to bring new life in us. We are to die to ourselves daily because we are following a God who did nothing less.

Neither Objects nor Projects

Moments ago as I sat in a local downtown café sipping on the best locally-roasted coffee, my friend and I knocked our mugs together in mini-celebration over the awkward moment that had just passed. You see we were talking about the church that my wife and I are planting in downtown Vancouver and my friend – who is not a Christian – kept accidentally dreaming with me about what this church might look like. While she does not buy into Christianity, she nonetheless is beginning to take ownership of this fledgling church despite the fact that she does not believe. The clinking of glasses was done jokingly to celebrate her acceptance of the inevitability of using the word “we” when talking about this church. At that moment, she allowed my dreaming to be her dreaming, the potential church activities to be her activities, and the conversation immediately twisted to “we” instead of “you”. It was a valuable celebration.

In Jesus’ other commission in Luke 10, we hear him sending his seventy disciples out to the nearby towns to proclaim the kingdom. Surprisingly, however, he sends them out without the necessary provisions. They were sent without money, a bag, or even shoes. Instead they are told to be open to the generosity and hospitality of the people to which they have been sent. In other words, they have been sent in search of partners. Partnership is also important to Matthew’s Great Commission as Jesus states that while authority is his, he is sending us.

Us? He is the one who has the power, but he has commissioned us as his sent agents of hope in his world. Partnership. Jesus invites us to partner with him. The reason this is so key is that when we transition from an arrival mentality of mission to an as-you-are-going mentality, we are challenged to change our view of humanity around us. No longer are they objects of our mission; no longer is their salvation our goal. Our neighbors are those who surround us as-we-are-going and we are invited to see them as fellow journeyers, as partners in journeying through life. If we believe God’s Genesis 1:31 statement that what he has created is very good and if we believe that “For God so loved the world…” was referencing all of God’s created people, then we must believe in the inherent dignity of God’s loved people. Mission is how we live with these people; it is how we die for these people; and it is how we partner with these people as we traverse this life and pursue a new God-ordained future for us all.

My friend does is not a believer, but she is partnering with us in planting a church. What is more shockingly strange: that we are partnering with her or that God has chosen to partner with us?

Boxes not included

If we accept Jesus’ invitation to mission as-we-are-going about our life, we are accepting the inevitability that everything will change. We cannot die to self as-we-are-going about life without a change to the way we live. Mission requires intentionality.

My life, as it normally goes, is about me. I go to a church that fits my preferences and feels comfortable to me. I live in a neighborhood that feels safe for me and my family. I prepare food that I like. I eat at restaurants that I prefer. I avoid people who make me uncomfortable. I value my time, my stuff, my ministry, my thoughts, my opinions, myself. I am not terribly different from you; I am not terribly egocentric – I am just being honest about myself. When I look at a photo, guess who I look for first?

The manner in which I go about my life is not wholly transformational nor on mission for Jesus. Yes, I may have a church meeting or ministry that I am involved in, but those are duties that fit within a scheduling block on my full calendar. As-you-are-going does not necessitate more meetings, small groups, or duties. Quite the opposite: As-you-are-going transcends scheduling. As a matter of fact, it necessitates a scheduling transcendence because it necessitates availability and spontaneity. If we take a moment to study the life and ministry of Jesus, which we cannot do here, we will discover that much of his ministry happened as he was going. It happened because he was available, he was interrupt-able, he was willing to be spontaneous.

Strangers do not follow our schedules, life does not cater to our wants or preferences, and mission happens in the midst of the messiness of our lives. So to protect ourselves, we create boxes. We are attracted to boxes. Boxes allow me to sing This World is not my Home on Sunday and spend Monday through Saturday storing up treasures on earth. Boxes allow me to act one way with my Christian family and another way with my coworkers. Boxes give me a freedom from accountability to my neighbor. Boxes make me feel safe. Terrifyingly, dying-to-self requires that our boxes to die along with us. This means that we are on mission every moment of every day, available to the Holy Spirit regardless of time, function, or location. We must allow our boxes to be taken down so that a holy availability can then stand. And where there is a person indwelt by the Spirit, available to his neighbor, there is a missionary. Mission becomes our identity. We become missionaries.

Missionaries

I may have failed at attracting hordes of people to my soapbox sermons in Lisbon and I may fail in planting a church in downtown Vancouver. Death is the paradox of the Christian faith, is it not? “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies…” Through Christ’s death, we find life. Through our death, our neighbors find life. And through their death (celebrated in baptism), they will inherit life.

Mission matters. Mission is to attach the phrase “for the sake of the world” to the end of any Christian statement, structure, schedule, or plan. Mission is the invitation to be salt and light in our neighborhoods, at the car wash, at the café, at work, in the car, and in our Sunday worship gatherings.

Mission is to die to my own preferences in order to love my neighbors preferences more fully.

Mission is to listen first and answer later.

Mission is to heal the sick, care for the needy, mourn with those who mourn, celebrate with those who celebrate, to seek people of peace, to receive as well as give, to worship with our hands, our feet, our bodies, and even with our mouths.

Mission is to wait tables for the sake of the world, to sell homes for the sake of the world, to eat meals for the sake of the world, to gather on Sundays for the sake of the world, to live for the sake of the world.

Mission matters because we have been commissioned by the creator of the universe to partner with him in the unfolding of his alternative reality in our broken world.

So the question must be asked: Will you go on mission? Will you be on mission as you go?

And will you die trying?New Wineskins

Ryan and Jessica WoodsRyan Woods lives in Vancouver, WA where he is an associate minister at the Renovatus Church of Christ, a church plant that he and his wife helped to start in 2005. In 2011 he and his wife will lead a daughter church plant in the downtown district of Vancouver. This church plant will be a grassroots, neighborhood driven church where a group of dedicated Christ followers will live and die for the neighborhood until a sustainable church emerges. Ryan enjoys reading, gardening, coffee, and human interaction. He and his wife Jessica just celebrated their seventh year of marriage and have two kids. For more information you can read at [www.downtown.renovatus.com] or write him at [ryan@renovatus.com].

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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