DATE: 11/27/2004 07:58:00 PM
Missions versus Mission - While visiting my in-laws for Thanksgiving this week, I had the opportunity to converse with students from Gordon College, a Christian school near Boston, Massachusetts. One of the students was a friend of my wife's family and a major in physics and math. The other was majoring in biblical studies. Both are incredibly smart and talented students, and would be an asset to whatever business or organization that hires them. When I asked them about their plans after graduation, both informed me that they plan to go into missions. To be more precise, both planned to be missionaries abroad.
The answer they gave both encouraged and discouraged me, since I've heard it from so many other enthusiastic and Godly students. It encouraged me because it's great to see the next generation of Christianity so fired up about serving God. It discouraged me, though, because I'm not sure all of them are meant to be missionaries to other countries. Don't get me wrong. I'm all in favor of sending people to spread the gospel to those in foreign lands. In recent years, though, I think the church has promoted foreign missions to such an extent that we aren't encouraging those graduating from college to make a difference in their own communities and country.
Christians consistently complain about a coarsening of the culture in America. Our movies, books, television shows and music are evidence of a massive cultural shift toward a celebration of the profane. Christians are right to complain about this trend, but are in some ways responsible for it. The American church has become so focused on the romanticism of the foreign mission that we've largely ignored cultural trends closer to home. Christians who are talented in the areas of music, filmmaking or writing are encouraged to "use their talents for God" (read: the church) instead of taking their Christian perspective into the culture. It's a reversal of the parable of the talents. We're creating an entire generation of Christians afraid to take risks with the talents God has given them. Jesus knew that investing the talents of the story was a risk, but the story He told was a call to do just that - take risks for the greater glory of God.
Some are reading this and asking 'But isn't serving God in another country a risk?' Well, yes and no. There are some countries that are quite simply chock full of missionaries. Maybe there's enough work for all of them, but when you concentrate that much talent in one place, it can stunt the spiritual growth of those who the missionaries are serving.
There are many areas of American society where having Christians involved would help. Politics, movies, music, writing. Like C.S. Lewis said, the world doesn't need more Christian writers, it needs more good writers who happen to be Christians. The problem is, we discourage such risk-taking as a Christian community. Think of what happens to Christian recording artists who release singles to mainstream radio - they lose fans, airplay and are sometimes removed from the shelves of Christian bookstores. All for having the 'audacity' to try and take Christian themes into an industry in need of such a message.
Foreign missions are not the only way to serve God, and the church should resist the temptation to put those who serve in that capacity on a pedestal. Most of the missionaries I've met are humble, sincere people who aren't seeking approval - they just want to reach people with the message of Christ. If churches want to serve their world, they have to start at home. There are professions and communities here in the United States that need to hear the gospel, or that need a Christian influence. The political world, the business world and the entertainment world are but a few. Those that choose to enter these realms should not be chided for 'choosing the world' or 'serving mammon.' Like Hugh Hewitt says in his book, they should be given the support and prayers of the church for wanting to be "in but not of" the world that Christ commanded us to reach on His behalf.