Home Updated September 5, 2007 David Mays
The Image and Substance of Missions: Three Critical Concerns
An old professor used to talk about the "fog factor" in writing. He multiplied the average number of words in a sentence by the average number of letters per word to get the "Fog Index." His point was that if you wanted people to read and understand what you wrote, it needed to be clear and simple. Someone has said, "When there's a mist in the pulpit, there's a fog in the pew." If people are to understand and support missions as a critical function of the church, it helps to be clear about some things that may be foggy.
We need to be clear about the goal of missions.
For many the primary goal or aim of missions is obscure. A few weeks ago, in a Christianity Today article on short term missions, the author said Christian young people have great compassion for the physical and social needs of people but many are theologically confused about the need for a transformation of the heart by Jesus. What is it that missions is supposed to accomplish?
There is an end goal. Revelation 7:9-10 shows us a picture of people from every tongue and tribe and language and people worshipping the lamb. As we plan our missions ministry, this is our guiding principle. This is where we're headed.
We need to be clear about the scope of missions.
The range of projects and activities considered missions is very broad. As I see church missions budgets and hear pastors talk, I note a great range of ministries being funded or referred to as missions. Everyday Christians are missionaries. If everything is missions, what is missions? What really is missions? And what is it not?
Missions used to be reaching pagan nations overseas and church work was building up the church at home. The distinctions will never be this clear again. The world is too complex. However, we must draw boundaries, even if they are fuzzy. Missions is what we send people and resources to do because the congregation can't do it. Church ministry is what the congregation can and should do as part of our life and ministry among people we can reach.
We need to be clear about the priorities of missions.
The playing field has leveled. One project or activity seems just as worthy as another. The key criterion for worthiness is often whether it involves people from our church. Are some things more urgent, more critical, or more strategic than others? If so, what does that mean for our missions ministry?
Many things may be included in missions but not everything is of equal value, importance, or urgency. Our planning must indicate what fields, tasks, projects, and partners we consider of greatest strategic importance. Usually this is most effectively done with budgets and budget goals and with public prayers, reports, and celebrations.
When these concepts are clear in the minds of our church leaders and our people, we may expect the kind of support and involvement that missions deserves.