When I moved here six years ago, I was on that journey with my faith where I was at odds with the church half the time. Having cleared away so much of what I disagreed with in the Christian culture, I was examining the very basics of Christianity and wondering what I still believed. I remember telling my good friend Rachel just after having moved to Dallas that I felt like I'd dug down to the bedrock of faith but I had no idea where to go from there.
In the midst of that, it was difficult to think of missions. I cringed at how often we transported our culture overseas with our God and called them one and the same. Terms like "evangelize" and "missions" were empty for me, or perhaps not so much empty as so full of baggage that I could hardly see anything sacred in them. It's symptomatic of my whole generation, actually. You say "missionary" and it means nothing. You say "justice" or "sex trafficking" or "HIV orphans" and we feel a holy fire to do something, to bring the hope of Jesus to all that is wrong in the world.
One of the big questions I wrestled with was over the purpose of the church, and me as a part of it. I spent nearly two years reading Christopher Wright's book The Mission of God. I wrote about it here, but regardless, it walked me through and developed my thinking about all of this, about God's purpose, our purpose, my purpose.
I work off of some basic assumptions now. I still struggle with a lot of the buzz words, cultural baggage, etc. I still find it very easy to find fault with much of what is presented as missions these days. But this:
You are my witnesses, declares the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me, and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior. I have revealed and saved and proclaimed - I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses," declares the Lord, "that I am God." - Isaiah 43: 10-12Wright says:
Yahweh presents himself as the God who will to be known. This self-communicating drive is involved in everything God does in creation, revelation, salvation and judgment. Human beings therefore are summoned to know Yahweh as God, on the clear assumption that they can know him and that God wills that they should know him.
That's the thing. It's basic to my faith, to my worldview, to my life choices. I believe there is a God, that I know Him, that He transforms me through the grace found in his Son Jesus, and that that same hope is for all people. Some of our skepticism about mission is that we're not sure we even believe the gospel anymore. Reaffirming my belief in that basic truth set the ground for believing that world also should know the God that has loved me with such amazing grace.
Secondly, as a follower of God, I care about what He cares about, and He very clearly cares about the brokenness in the world. Be it the personal grief of one person or the great tragedies of our generation like HIV, terrorism, or systematic poverty. Christ came to bring redemption, and when He left He left the Spirit acting through His people. I am the hand of God in the world, enacting His mission here. So, where there is brokenness, I should go like a moth to the flame, offering hope and healing - physical, spiritual, emotional, relational.
And then there is the third point, that I look at the church in the West and see, in contrast to most of the rest of the world, extravagant wealth and privilege. We've all heard it it, we know that simply because we have homes, cars, refrigerators, and A/C means that we're among the wealthiest in the world, to say nothing of our 401ks, annual vacations, Apple products, and four dollar lattes. James 5 is a bit chilling in that light, but 1 John is also clear.
But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:17-18, ESV)
And so it is that when I look at my church (and by that I mean, the church of the West, of this culture), I see a deep responsibility to look around and see that we are rich and there is deep need, and so we must, we simply must, go and love the world "in deed and in truth".
Because those three things, well, we end up as a people that are "going". We go to the brokenness around us, to the brokenness across town, and to the places of deep need across the world. Call it what you will, but we, the church, are driven by this great mission of God to darkness with hope in our hands.