If you are anything like me, you have a distinct and deeply embedded definition that comes to mind when someone says the word “mission”. Truthfully, if you grew up in the 80’s like I did, you may have two definitions: the one you got from 80’s action flicks and the one you got from church. The 80’s action flick definition usually had to do with large guns, a larger than life hero and going up against impossible odds.
It’s the church oriented definition of mission that I’m thinking about today…and that particular kind of mission seemed distinctly less exciting or glamorous than the ones depicted in 1980 action films! For me, growing up, Christian mission was something that someone else did, usually somewhere else in the world or in the dingy back alleys of the inner city. Mission was something that someone was “sent away” to do. There was a distinct line drawn in my church teaching between mission and evangelism. Mission happened “cross-culturally” or in another country, and evangelism is what Christians “at home” engaged in.
What if that definition is wrong? When I joined the EMCC back in 2003, it was amid growing conversation among evangelicals that we had gotten it wrong over the past couple of hundred years in drawing this distinction between those who went on mission and the rest of us Christian folk. That somehow going on mission was some special calling that the rest of us were excused from. Then our culture began to change. Christian values began to slip, taking a back seat to socialist agendas and the concerns of liberal minorities. Suddenly, people were not walking into churches looking for God…in fact, people stopped walking into churches altogether. Even more disturbing, people began to walk OUT of the church in droves.
Why? Because North American Christianity had become nothing more than empty shell religiosity for many, many people…all form and no substance; all tradition and no experience. Suddenly, the church found itself having to justify its existence and value. The “seeker sensitive” movement grew out of this, trying to discover and implement changes that would draw people back to the church, scratching their spiritual itch so to speak and then sneak Jesus in along the way.
This movement ultimately failed, because it created and fed nothing more than a consumeristic group of Christians who walked away as soon as something happened they didn’t like.
In the midst of all of this, a curious thing was happening on the edges of evangelical Christianity. The word “mission” began to be used in a different way. It was no longer used to describe men and women who served Jesus on other continents. Instead, it began to be used to talk about how all Christians should follow Jesus, wherever they are. Suddenly mission fields were no longer talked about just as remote pieces of jungle in Africa, but came to describe the local neighbourhood where any Christian lived, or the place where Christians worked or the coffee shop where Christians gathered to sip hot beverages.
It’s like the blinders had suddenly come off and North American Christianity began to realize that the Great Commission had been offloaded onto the “professionals” (at home and abroad) while the average, every-day Christian lazily coasted their way through their spiritual lives. The leaders in denominations and churches began to see that the church could not longer be filled with observers who merely showed up on Sundays to listen to their favourite songs and hear an entertaining message. If the church was to survive in this increasingly un-Christian culture, then the church needed to start being the church: it needed to start being gatherings of committed Jesus-followers who were cooking full tilt boogie for the glory, honour and proclamation of the great name of Jesus Christ. (If you got that reference to the helicopter movie “Thunder
The only way to do that is to teach people not to be enthusiastic admirers of Jesus (fans), but to be disciples of Jesus; followers of Jesus; and not just follower of Jesus, but followers who are passionate about making more followers of Jesus…of making disciples who makes disciples, who make disciples. That’s been the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada’s mantra for the past decade as it has awakened to this renewed vision of what the church needs to be about.
As we journey further in our sermon series “Fan or Follower”, we are going to explore the truth that a follower of Jesus is following Jesus somewhere, namely on mission. The really critical part of that discussion is that the mission can’t be my mission, it has to be Jesus’ mission. Remember when we started into this thing, I mentioned that Jesus only calls us to believe in him about 5 times in the gospels, but he calls us to follow him about twenty times…and we have to be following him somewhere. That somewhere is our mission.
Take some time before Sunday to ponder John 12:26. See you Sunday!