Have you properly understood what it means to be a Christian?
Author and radio host Kel Richards says many of us neglect one key part of following Jesus
“Go into all the world,” said Jesus (Mark 16:15), and go for this purpose, in order to: “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19). By “all the world” Jesus meant everywhere: “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Most of us think the people who are expected to obey this command from Jesus are the people we call missionaries. It is their task to pursue the mission of Jesus himself, namely “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
That’s why most Christians support world missions: we give to mission societies and pray for missionaries; we read newsletters and emails from missionaries and mission societies; and in church or at conferences we hear reports from the missionaries we support. We want to hear how they are seeking the lost and telling them of Jesus across cultural boundaries and in remote places so that we can pray for them and support them financially.
But what about the missionary who is closest to you?
To find out who your closest missionary is: look in the mirror.
In the early church, everyone who became a Christian became a missionary. That was how the early church spread so rapidly.
I am suggesting that you are a missionary – that every Christian is a missionary. To be a Christian is to be a missionary. If you say that you are a Christian but not a missionary, then I am suggesting you have misunderstood what being a Christian really means.
You may protest: “No! No, that can’t be the case. Missionaries are formally screened and interviewed and chosen and trained and commissioned by missionary societies. Without that process – and that permission – I can’t be a missionary.”
But in the early church there were no missionary societies, no screening programmes for prospective missionaries, no commissioning services. In the early church, everyone who became a Christian became a missionary. That was how the early church spread so rapidly and so widely. While it’s true there were church planters (such as Paul) and he had a team around him (Luke, Timothy, Silas and the rest), that didn’t let the members of the churches Paul planted off the hook. They were, all of them, every member, part of the Christian missionary enterprise.
In his classic book, A History of Christian Missions, Stephen Neil writes:
“The Church of the first-Christian generation was a genuinely missionary church. There were, of course, the whole-time workers, such as Paul and Barnabas, specially set apart with prayer for the prosecution of missionary endeavour … Apart, however, from these special workers the Church could count on the anonymous and unchronicled witness of all the faithful. Our first mention of this comes in Acts 8:4, where we are told that those who were scattered as a result of the persecution that followed on the death of Stephen went about preaching the word; some of them, more venturous than the leadership of the Church, seem to have made Christian history at Antioch by preaching directly to Gentiles.
There is no clash between being a missionary and also being an office manager
At the day of Pentecost Peter made the point that the prophecy of Joel 2:28-29 was now fulfilled: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy … Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” This has now happened, says Peter – all Christians now have the Holy Spirit. Speaking God’s words is no longer restricted to a specially designated group.”
“But, but, but,” you protest, “I can’t be a missionary – I’m busy being an office manager, or sales rep, or shop assistant, or engineer, or accountant, or bus driver, or student, or …” However, there is no clash between being a missionary and also being an office manager, sales rep, engineer, etc, etc.
We may very well discover that people are more willing to engage in conversations of a spiritual nature than we previously thought.
To understand this, picture what a medical missionary working in, say, Africa does. They are there to do a specific job (to practise medicine and surgery) and they have to do this and do it well to justify being there. And this will take up most of their time. The difference is their mindset: they know they are there to represent Jesus Christ and they will actively look for opportunities to talk about Jesus, to give Christian literature to someone, to pray for someone with whom they have a useful conversation. They know it’s a waste being on the mission field if all they ever do is practise medicine. They are there to look for opportunities to have gospel conversations – and to seize these opportunities when they come.
Once you have the same mindset as the medical missionary in Africa (which, I claim, is the normal Christian mindset) then you too will grab each small opportunity when it comes along to introduce a spiritual dimension into your conversations.
If we’re honest, we’d admit that one of our most powerful motivations for denying all this and leaving the mission of Christ to the “professional missionaries” is that it scares the socks off us. But we might be surprised at what happens when we try. As we become a little better equipped, and a little bolder, in adding a spiritual dimension to our conversations with our friends and colleagues and relatives, we may very well discover that people are more willing to engage in conversations of a spiritual nature than we previously thought.
But, back to you and your role in whatever mission field your life places you.
What we are talking about is the relational equivalent to preparing the soil, planting seeds, watering, fertilising, weeding, and … waiting!
Bear in mind that the medical missionary doesn’t just go in for one gospel “hit” on whoever they meet. Rather, they are there for the long haul, to build relationships, and slowly – over time – “drip-feed” bits of information to those around them about who Jesus is and why he came: which is a very biblical approach, since the most common image in the Bible for missionary work is agriculture, such as:
• The harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few (Matt 9:37)
• The parable of the sower and the soils (Matt 13:1-23)
• The parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matt 13:24-30)
• Paul’s explanation that he planted while Apollos watered (1 Cor 3:6)
We don’t need to give sermons on John 3:16 – we just need to plant seed thoughts.
And what is the main characteristic of agriculture? It’s slow! It’s a slow, long-term, steady activity – not a single “one hit and it’s done” job. What we are talking about is the relational equivalent to preparing the soil, planting seeds, watering, fertilising, weeding, and … waiting! (That’s what farmers do.) And what is the main characteristic of “seeds”? They are small! We don’t need to say a lot. We don’t need to give sermons on John 3:16 – we just need to plant seed thoughts. But we need to be actually doing it. There is a famous command in 1 Peter 3:15: “In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” This command is universal.
At the heart of this command is the instruction to do your homework (“be prepared”). If you’re a reader you can do this by reading a book or two. There are lots of good books on this subject – here are a few suggestions to get you started:
• Conversational Evangelism by David Geisler and Norman Geisler (Harvest House Publishers)
• Honest Evangelism: How to Talk About Jesus Even When It’s Tough by Rico Tice (The Good Book Company)
• One-Minute Answers to Skeptics by Charlie H. Campbell (Harvest House)
• Defending the Gospel by Kel Richards (Matthias Media)
• Journey Towards God by Kel Richards (Beacon Communications)
All are available at Koorong. And there are lots of others – but that list is, at least, a starting place.
Australia is now a post-Christian pagan country. You couldn’t get a better mission field than this. And God’s team of missionaries to reach this place is us – all of us.
Kel Richards works for the New South Wales Council of Churches making their radio programmes for Sydney’s 2CH, 1170 AM.