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Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Difference Between Coming and Going

It occurs to me that much of our missionary efforts today are carried out as though God wasn't on the field.

God doesn't "send" us. He calls us to join Him. There's a difference. If we think that we're doing something great for God, or that He (or the "nations") needs us in any way, we think too highly of ourselves.

Consider the terminology we use: "Reaching the nations for Christ." "Finishing the Task." "Building the Kingdom." "Engaging people." Because we haven't been careful to explain what they originally meant, these trite phrases have helped shape a human-centered missiology among many believers.

Few missions strategies include something like, "Get involved in the community and wait for God to bring us the people in whom He is already working."

Instead, we have people canvassing neighborhoods in search of anyone who will listen, and broad (and generic) "Sowing of the gospel." It's as though we were afraid that the God who called us to the field has left us to search blindly for what He might do.

Why do we view the role of the missionary as perpetually active ("reaching," "evangelizing," "sharing," etc.) and rarely passive ("being given the opportunity," "being used," "being led")?

8 comments:

Alan Knox said...

Because if we're passive, then we have to admit that we're not doing anything and God is doing everything. And, if we're not doing anything, then we have to admit that we can not do anything to earn favor with God - which we all (intuitively) want to do, even if we won't admit it.

Being passive means we must trust God completely... more than our own ability and our own logic and our own intelligence and our own methods. We have to trust God more than we trust ourselves.

-Alan

cafeaddict said...

stepchild, i can't believe i am getting ready to do this, i am hesitating, but alas i must disagree with you, to a certain degree that is...

before i get to the dissent part, let me say that i totally agree that many of our phrases and ways of describing our mission is very "us" focused. i get asked all the time how many souls i have saved, as if i had the power to save anyone. it is Christ who builds the church, empowers, calls and draws people to himself. we steal his glory when we put the emphasis on ourselves with phrases like you mentioned. on this point, we see eye to eye.

that said, i am not sure i can totally agree with your "passive" stance. you mentioned getting involved in the community and letting God bring people to you. well, getting involved in something for that purpose is an active, not passive thing. meeting people, spending time with people, and having them over for dinner, all these things are active. we live life actively and trust that God will bring people across our way that are seeking. to me, there is nothing passive about this approach.

maybe your critique has more to do with traditional evangelism methods, like handing out tracks and approaching people on the street. maybe this is the activism that you are against. i admit, these techniques cause me some concern in a postmodern, european context. however, i don't think i can make a blanket statement against those who employ them. when i read in the book of acts, i can see how others use this as encouragement to be "active" in the sense you defined. they spoke to large crowds, and talked to people on the streets. i think we would all agree that God led them to do so. maybe God leads some to do "generic" sowing. maybe those that obey are being responsive to God's leading. are we really in a position to discern who is being lead by God and who is just being "active?"

i can't say my way is the only way. God doesn't work in just one way. i guess i am saying that maybe we need to give as much grace to others as we want to receive ourselves. i want people to respect what i feel God has called me to do in making disciples and i have to do the same in return.

The Minstrel said...

Amen to that friend...I truly believe that God blesses us with opportunities to share. This requires more sensitivity to the Spirit and realizing that you cannot save the person, but God can.

platformshoes said...

Great discussion! As one working among in a muslim context this isn't as much of an issue. We can't emplore traditional outreach methods and must rely on relational approaches. I know in Western Europe this is still a struggle. I was in a large WE city yesterday and saw guys handing out legitimate tracs and even I, a SBC sent one, cringed and ducked around a news stand to avoid the guy. There are times and places for such but relational is more strategic and more effective. The bad news is that it's hard to brag in a newsletter that I had 20 coffees, 4 beach-trips and 6 late nights in bars to the folks at home.....handing out 100 bibles sounds better!

Tom Huguenot said...

And maybe too, that the "agressive" methods of evangelism work better in the "Us/Them" paradigm that many Christians continue to work in.

I have often told my American colleagues they should read Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara on the topic of being completely part of a population. Not sure I've been heard.

margaret said...

Interesting discussion. I would have to agree with cafeaddict. Even when we join clubs and events to place ourselves among the lost we are still being active and using active words. Maybe what you do not like are the “raiding parties” that many churches in the states are sending out on Monday nights. Though I am not a fan myself (as well trained in the art of “raiding” a lost person’s house as I am) it is an instrument that He uses to call the lost to Himself. Even though relational evangelism is most likely the best tool we have right now it is not the end all/be all of Evangelism. 20 years from now our children and grandchildren will be asking why we ever used such a strange form of evangelism that does not work for them.

stepchild said...

Thanks, everyone, for the great discussion. I appreciate those of you who mention that action is required on our part. I certainly never meant to say that our role should be entirely passive. I only meant to point out how rarely our "strategies" include passive steps that require us to wait on God. I have seen first hand how people can disqualify themselves from service through either laziness or misguided activity.

Also, I'm not against "traditional" methods at all. Of course, I think it is misguided to value "what works" above everything else, but God leads effective ministers to do all sorts of things (traditional and otherwise) to minister to people.

Anonymous said...

Alright...where have you hidden the microphone in my house? :-) My other half and I were just talking about this and the previous post when i was asked if i had read your blog lately...noo...so here i am glad to know i'm not the only one thinking along those lines and encouraged that i can be myself and not feel that i am hunting prospects and go enjoy my hobbies and be a light while preparing myself for that open person who crosses my path.
-signed, no cute name yet