Having just returned from Nicaragua and considering what to share with congregations and youth groups, here are a few things I have gathered from my understanding of scripture and the heart of God. These are not so much steps we take but concepts and directives to help us understand that missional living is really the way we were created to live.
Before Jesus departed earth, leaving his rag-tag bunch of disciples to change the world, this is the charge he gave them:
18 Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 HCSB
This is nothing new for people who live in church culture; we hear this passage anytime there is anything remotely related to overseas mission work! But was that really Jesus’ intention for stating this command and empowering His disciples? Was He only interested in “overseas” mission work or was He more interested in their lives being missional? I believe it encompasses both but ideally the latter. When we live missionally, it matters not where we are; wherever we are we seek to usher in God’s Kingdom. This is where the mindset for some is lost. Sadly, some only view “mission work” as that which is done in another country or with a culture that is distinctly different than our own. So many pass on the word “GO” because they feel like they are not “called” to be a missionaries in some foreign field and thus they tune out as soon as they realize this passage is set for the sermon.
My understanding of the passage mentioned in Matthew 28 is that when Jesus spoke these words, He was essentially saying:
“As you are making your way through your ordinary, daily routines of life, make disciples of people whether you are at home or traveling abroad.” At least, that’s how I would interpret it. Here’s how Eugene Peterson translates it as in The Message:
18-20 Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life…
Why is it that so many of us just pass on “GO”? Here are three directives to help you make the most out of your life and living missionally right where you are.
When Jesus gave this direct command to His disciples, he expected them to do it. He didn’t require them to be planning long distant mission trips to countries on the other side of the world but what He did expect them to do was to take the gospel and life transformation wherever they went. Before you jump on the bandwagon and claim that mission work is only for those who are “called”, you need to realize that Jesus was talking to all of his disciples at this point and none of them had more of a “special calling” than the other. What this means is that all of us are “called” and CAN do mission work wherever we are. Jesus’ command is not for a select few who WANT to go; it’s for everyone who is going from place to place whether it’s familiar or foreign. Jesus’ command for missional living just makes common sense to be lived out right where we are.
2) Use Common Connections
Mission work abroad seems “easier” because we are forced to do “ordinary” things with people. Things like washing clothes, serving food, and building relationships are tasks that each and every missionary must do when traveling abroad. Sure there are times for sharing the gospel, attending church, among other “spiritual” endeavors BUT the most effective mission work is done in and through the relational aspects of a trip or stay. Even though the spiritual things are of grave concern, it is through the common connections of daily routines, the tasks of general life that allow for conversations and eventually conversions and discipleship.
Sometimes people freak out wondering where they are supposed to go; is it Africa or Asia? Use common sense and look at your common connections. Do you have connections to any of those places? Are there people in your circle of influence who are already working in that place? It’s really not a matter of God not “showing” where He wants us as much as it is us recognizing the places that we can effectively connect through the relationships we already have.
The only reason we have a ministry in Africa is because of a friend who came to my church one day and asked who would go. I was the only one who raised his hand that day. Now for more than 14 years, I have been helping and developing disciples in Africa. I’ve been 10 times but MOST of my discipleship happens via prayer and the internet.
The only reason we have ministry in El Salvador is because a friend invited me to go and their church made it possible. I went and have been going ever since. That was close to 10 years ago! Now we have a ministry that is growing and expanding like crazy there.
The only reason we have a ministry in Nicaragua because a friend invited me to go and helped make it possible. I have been several times over the last three years, teaching and equipping young disciples there and it’s all because of using common connections. I had a friendship with someone who had a friendship with someone and that opened more doors than I ever thought possible!
Missional living happens when we simply use our common connections and build on those relationships to affect the world.
3) Use Spiritual Discernment
The first two directives are really for all of us. Anyone who has common sense can live like a missionary wherever they are. Those who realize that God orchestrates relationships and friendships for intentional purposes can also quite easily live missionally. This third directive is geared for those who are sincerely seeking to serve in some specific way. I believe that there are certain people that God gifts with abilities to learn languages, to adapt to changes, and easily identify with others. These “missionaries” often seem to “know” their calling and have a desire for a place or a people in which they want to minister. It’s quite clear to them and to others who know them well.
For those who wonder if they should or shouldn’t go to a “place” or deal with a certain “people” group, use spiritual discernment. Pray and study the scripture. Learn about them and seek out healthy friendships with that people group here in the USA. One of the great advantages we have living in America is that we have almost every nation in our own “backyard”. So be discerning and wise and establish some friendships with other cultures and see if God would have you become more involved in “going” to serve that nation.
Sometimes there is just a gnawing sense within one’s spirit about what they must do or where they must go. If this is NOT you, then simply pray and seek the Lord. It doesn’t mean you aren’t a missionary. Through spiritual discernment, friendships, godly counsel and connections along with God’s word and common sense, you will become more and more clear on how and what God wants to do through you. Whatever you do, don’t pass “Go”. It’s meant for you!
George Lockhart is a missionary with Vision 2 Hear and Missions Pastor at New Vision Church in Fayetteville, GA