Talk of home missions and becoming missionaries to our local culture has taken root in domestic church leadership discourse. It is an encouraging development, but it falls far short of having any far-reaching impact on the average Christ follower. Quite simply, the jargon usually passes them by. Terms like missional, lost person, social justice, and social compassion imply meaning, but do not necessarily convey the fullness of what leaders mean when communicating with their parishioners. The same could be said of traditionally evangelical vocabulary such as saved, sinner’s prayer, intercession, and the particularly obscure phrases, Roman Road or holistic. Even the word missionary is loaded with shades of meaning which will communicate one set of ideas to a conservative evangelical, another set to a liberal mainline church goer, and still another to a self-conscious convert to post-modernism who is heavily influenced by emergent thinking.
What is a pastor to do when all of these groups (plus the many possible variations) fill the church’s pews? We call people to follow Jesus with us as missionaries to the culture, but the terminology travels through the filters of their specific experiences. Hence, they hear many different things. For example, some may hear that we want them to give up their jobs and devote themselves full-time to some form of service, likely oversees, because that is what missionaries do, right? A few might be inspired at such a prospect. Most will recoil at any thought of raising support. That may not be what we mean, but it is what they assume because of their filters which help interpret the vocabulary we use to present ideas.
The best way to bypass the shortcomings of verbally expressed ideas is to demonstrate them in real life, and likewise to show snapshots and vignettes of the journeys in progress. When I was a Children’s Pastor working with at-risk kids in the neighborhood I used photography to aid the telling of my stories. Many of those photos are posted on this blog under the tag missional. I also invited others to join me in the work. They got to observe and directly participate, experiencing the challenges and blessings for themselves. I frequently told stories of my experiences among the lost and in the community, whether at work, via online Internet Relay Chat ministry, or in my daily routines. I wasn’t the only one doing these kinds of things, to be sure. But I shared some of my story to encourage others to do likewise.
In short, if you want to develop missionaries in your church, then be one. Find ways to encourage and support others who are doing the same. Share their stories. Use video, photography, live interviews, and reports from the field. Missionaries in foreign lands understand the importance of telling their stories consistently. It inspires people to continue giving. Our stories have the transformative power to inspire people to be more intentional as stewards of their time and resources so that they may show the life and character of Jesus in all they say and do.
Mission is multi-dimensional. It is not limited to acts of social compassion, such as feeding the hungry or providing shelter. Nor is it strictly limited to sharing your faith story and leading a person to a decision to follow the way of Christ, trusting him for eternal salvation. Both are important, to be sure. But consider this. Jesus healed and fed people, even when they chose not to believe. Are we willing to love people tangibly in the face of continued rejection of Christ and (gasp) us? Are we willing to love the difficult person, whether poor or wealthy?
Think on these things as you consider your circles of influence. Ask God how you might take your first steps toward tangible mission living. As you step out, be sure to share your stories with your people.