Missions & Witnessing

I’m post­ing this to answer a ques­tion posed to me by a cowork­er of mine, who I’ll call Crazy Cars Lady #2 (CCL#2 for short).

The oth­er day, CCL#2, my wife, and I went out to lunch at Mag­gie’s Din­er, a local joint with real­ly good bis­cuits & gravy. Some­time dur­ing the meal, a pair of Church of Jesus Christ & Lat­ter Day Saints mis­sion­ar­ies showed up a few feet away at the din­er’s cash register.

Ali­cia & I did­n’t see them (well, at least I did­n’t), but CCL#2 noticed them and made a com­ment about not con­sid­er­ing what they were doing a “mis­sion” but was rather “wit­ness­ing.” She fur­ther com­ment­ed that she did­n’t feel mis­sion­ary work was need­ed here.

I sent CCL#2 a long-wind­ed (me? a wind­bag?) email about why I felt mis­sions were need­ed here — per­haps even more so because of the ram­pant spread of Chris­t­ian church­es which are no such thing.

Well, leave it to me to miss the point entire­ly. In my mind, mis­sions & wit­ness­ing (or, evan­ge­lism) are just about the same. And that’s the per­spec­tive I took in the email. I real­ly need to back away from what I’m say­ing and real­ize that peo­ple can­not read my minds, nor I theirs.

To a great many — per­haps the major­i­ty of — peo­ple, mis­sions is social. They take the form as home­less shel­ters, “Lord’s kitchens,” free clin­ics, orphan­ages, the build­ing of homes, and so on. And these are all Very Good Things™.

In fact, those things are so good, they ought to be part & par­cel with our lives.

That’s a weighty thought, to be sure. How­ev­er, lest I be accused of mak­ing stuff up, I want to share this instruc­tion from my King:

“But when the Son of Man comes in His glo­ry, and all the angels with Him, then he will sit on His glo­ri­ous throne. 32And all the nations will be gath­ered before Him; and He will sep­a­rate them from one anoth­er, as the shep­herd sep­a­rates the sheep from the goats; 33and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

34Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inher­it the king­dom pre­pared for you from the foun­da­tion of the world. 35For I was hun­gry, and you gave Me some­thing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invit­ed Me in; 36naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you vis­it­ed Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’

37Then the right­eous will answer Him, say­ing, ‘Lord, when did we see You hun­gry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You drink? 38And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’

40And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Tru­ly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these broth­ers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

41Then he will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eter­nal fire which has been pre­pared for the dev­il and his angels; 42for I was hun­gry, and you gave Me noth­ing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me noth­ing to drink; 43I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not vis­it Me.’

44Then they them­selves also will answer, say­ing, ‘Lord, when did we see You hun­gry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’

45Then He will answer them, say­ing, ‘Tru­ly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46And these will go away into eter­nal pun­ish­ment, but the right­eous into eter­nal life.” Matthew 25:31–46, NASB

Con­tex­tu­al­ly, this applies strict­ly to the broth­ers of the King (verse 40), which are the regen­er­ate of all ages. How­ev­er, in light of the prin­ci­ples of liv­ing taught in such as Matthew 5–7 (the Ser­mon on the Mount), it can be rea­soned that it is impor­tant to live com­pas­sion­ate­ly toward all people.

How­ev­er, all that said, that isn’t real­ly mis­sions. When we think of the “mis­sion­ary jour­neys of Paul,” for instance, we don’t think of him head­ing over to Corinth or Rome to ham­mer some nails for Habi­tat for Human­i­ty! What did Paul do on his mis­sion­ary journeys?

He preached. And preached. And when he’d get stoned for preach­ing, what did he do? He preached. That was his life. That was his mis­sion. That was what Jesus com­mis­sioned the apos­tles to do (Matthew 28:18–20). That was what those first Chris­tians were empow­ered to do (Acts 1:8) — not just the apos­tles, but all those whom were gath­ered there.

Now before I make it seem like mis­sions are com­prised of only preach­ing, I real­ly don’t mean that. The idea is ser­vice; indeed, the word “mis­sion­ary” accord­ing to Web­ster’s 1828 Dic­tio­nary of Amer­i­can Eng­lish refers to one who is sent forth, one who is com­mis­sioned. Those who are sent forth to preach and to bear wit­ness of Jesus Christ fit that def­i­n­i­tion to a “T.”

But at the end of Acts 11, we do see a social mis­sion, so to speak; a great famine is fore­told, and the dis­ci­ples decide to send — every­one accord­ing to their abil­i­ty — relief to their brethren in Judae. This relief is sent by the hands of Paul & Barn­abas, and this mis­sions trip is detailed for us in Acts 12.

Depend­ing on the ver­sion you use, you may not find the word “mis­sion” itself; it’s there (Acts 12:25), but it may appear as one of its syn­onyms: “min­istry” or “ser­vice,” for example.

But do notice verse 24: “But the word of the Lord con­tin­ued to grow and to be mul­ti­plied” (NASB).

I think social work is great. The hun­gry need fed. The naked need clothed. The home­less need homes. All of that and more are wor­thy caus­es that Chris­tians ought to be cham­pi­oning. How­ev­er, our pri­or­i­ties must be kept in check; we may be com­mis­sioned to serve a meal, to build a house, to vis­it the impris­oned, but none of those things should take the place of or over­shad­ow that which we call the Great Com­mis­sion. Again, in the words of my King:

And He said to them, “Thus it is writ­ten, that the Christ should suf­fer and rise again from the dead the third day; 47and that repen­tance for for­give­ness of sins should be pro­claimed in His name to all the nations, begin­ning from Jerusalem. 48You are wit­ness­es of these things. Mt. 28:19Go there­fore and make dis­ci­ples of all nations, bap­tiz­ing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spir­it, 20teach­ing them to observe all that I com­mand­ed you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Luke 24:46–48; Matthew 28:19, 20, NASB

I’m going to sum­ma­rize it like this: all wit­ness­ing (evan­ge­lism) is mis­sions work, but not all mis­sions work is wit­ness­ing. The caveat here is that I believe the focal point of all bib­li­cal (i.e., Chris­t­ian) mis­sions ought to be that the Word of God grows & mul­ti­plies in the hearts of men.

And as the elect of God are sent out to preach His Word, those who become Chris­tians will then be able to shake up the areas they live in by infus­ing their lives with the prin­ci­ples of the king­dom of God. And even­tu­al­ly those Chris­tians will be send­ing forth preach­ers to oth­er areas, start­ing the process over.

I do not deny that spe­cial needs to arise, and just as Paul & Barn­abas car­ried relief to Judae, so should Chris­tians today be sen­si­tive to such needs as well, that the Word of God may grow and mul­ti­ply always!

I hope I helped to clar­i­fy the issues for you, CCL#2; if not, leave a com­ment or get with me at work. (And if any­one else read­ing this is con­fused or thinks that I’m total­ly mixed up, please do leave your ques­tions & com­ments as well!)


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2 responses to “Missions & Witnessing”

  1. Crazy Cars Lady #2 Avatar
    Crazy Cars Lady #2

    First, thank you for the response and I do under­stand now what you see as a “mis­sion.” I’m not sure I agree with you exact­ly, but more on ter­mi­nol­o­gy then prac­ti­cal­i­ty and you said you would­n’t hold a dif­fer­ent opin­ion against me. That said, I am not so hap­py about being “Crazy Cars Lady” and #2 at that. “Nice Co-Work­er #1” would have been fine! ;)

  2. Rick Beckman Avatar

    You would have me going around blog­ging lies??? ;)

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Rick Beckman