Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Defining Missions

The other day a former pastor wrote and asked me this question.

“How do you define ‘missions’”?

As I thought of a response, I realized that I have in the past defined what is a missionary, but not written much on what is missions. I have concluded that not everyone who shares the gospel is a missionary. They may be witness, a conduit for revelation, they may even be salt and light in a non-Christian country, but that doesn’t make them missionaries, in the professional sense of the word. But what about missions? What is it and how is missions defined?

If I am consistent that a missionary is a person who intentionally crosses cultural borders of ethnicity, language, religion, caste/tribe identification, then missions must also have those cross-cultural characteristics. I do not believe supporting a Bible College, youth camps, television programs or the local crisis pregnancy clinic is missions. Good causes indeed, worthy of church funding, but not missions.

Mission is different from Missions. Mission is rooted in Missio Dei, the Mission of God – making Himself known to all mankind, the process of establishing His Kingdom. Mission is Theocentric, to bring glory and worship to God alone through time and space, from every people, language and nation.

Missions, is a program of the church. And, like all programs, the activities of missions is as diverse as the church itself. Here is a sampling of missions:

Social Missions – Meeting the felt needs of people (feeding programs, orphanages, schools, etc.) The goal of the social missions is to demonstrate the love of Christ through works of social action.

Church Planting Missions – The deliberate act of going to an area to evangelize, baptize and disciple people and forming a fellowship where believers can intellectually and spiritually grow in their faith. This, by definition, is the basis for the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18ff.

Support Missions - Anything that supports the structure of missions, be it boarding schools for missionary families, language schools, Bible translation or administrators working in the corporate office. Team leaders, pastor to missionaries, mechanics, women and children ministries all fall under the category of support missions.

Facilitative Missions
– This is a new category of missions that has emerged over the past thirty years. Facilitative missions is specifically training national church planters and missionaries, helping them in their outreach to the least evangelized peoples of the world. I do not include pastoral training in this category, as most of those ministries focus on leaders of an established congregation rather than on outreach. To be sure, every church should be engaged in outreach, but growing a church is much different than starting a church.

While church planting is the stated goal of a majority of missionary activity, most missionaries are engaged in support or social ministry. I cannot pass judgment on any of these ministries as God can and does use all of it to bring people to Himself. It’s my opinion, however, that more emphasis should be placed on intentional outreach ministries if the majority of the world will ever have an opportunity to hear the Good News message of Christ Jesus. When the focus becomes Mission, rather than Missions, then, and only then, will the vast number of unreached hear the Gospel.