Last Sunday was a milestone: my Pennsylvania home church, Chapel PCA, commissioned me. In a moving exhortation, Pastor Steve Maker said, “Kyria, live for King Jesus, love for King Jesus, and fight for King Jesus; because West Africa belongs to King Jesus.” Through spoken word, visible laying of hands, and audible prayers lifted up, my church family lovingly sent me off for long-term work overseas. Tears of gratitude flowed from this missionary’s eyes.
I’ve been reflecting on what a privilege that was. What could I hope to do without such tangible support of my calling? I wish I could share this sense of commissioning with my brothers and sisters who do Kingdom work but aren’t “missionaries.” What would it take for us as Christians to “commission” each other for our everyday spreading of Christ’s gospel?
Maybe we could start by taking missionaries off the pedestal. Consider this quote from Total Church by Chester and Timmis:
We sometimes ask people to imagine they are part of a church-planting team in a cross-cultural situation in some other part of the world:
- What criteria would you use to decide where to live?
- How would you approach secular employment?
- What standard of living would you expect as pioneer missionaries?
- What would you spend your time doing?
- What opportunities would you be looking for?
- What would your prayers be like?
- What would you be trying to do with your new friends?
- What kind of team would you want around you?
- How would you conduct your meetings together?
We find it easier to be radical in our thinking when we transplant ourselves outside our current situation. But we are as much missionaries here and now as we would be if we were part of a cross-cultural team in another part of the world. Mission is central to us wherever we are. These are the kind of questions we should be asking wherever we are. (p.33)
We foreign missionaries often get told that we’re “going to the front lines.” At times I sense an attitude that our calling is higher or we’ve reached a deeper level of spiritual maturity. (Just ask my parents, who have graciously allowed me to live with them over the past 3 1/2 years; they’ll bring your opinion back to reality!) I can recognize the attitude because I’ve had it when in the presence of a “giant of the faith.” So no one needs the reminder more than me. But that kind of calling comparison is bad theology and certainly not biblical. And more importantly, it diminishes the work God is doing under our very noses. That’s why I’m asking to be taken off the pedestal. God has a highest calling for each of us. I have not been gifted to live out the calling God has on your life. The front line of the Kingdom extends to wherever He has placed one of His followers.
What do you think about this other quote from Chester and Timmis?
The vast majority of Christians have not been helped to see that who they are and what they do every day in schools, workplaces or clubs is significant to God, nor that the people they spend time with in those everyday contexts are the people God is calling them to pray for, bless and witness to. … We pray for overseas missionaries but not for Christian electricians, builders, shop assistants and managers in our towns…. We have simply not been envisioned, resourced and supported to share the Good News of Jesus in our everyday contexts. (p. 36)
How could we do better at supporting and commissioning each other for everyday gospel witness? During 2013, I was raising support full-time; but beyond that, I was privileged to participate in life with many of you, if only a brief sliver of life. Here are only a few of many glimpses I saw of God building His Kingdom in and around you:
- my friend who works full-time to help support her husband’s full-time ministry to high school guys (coaching at the local public school, befriending the guys, leading Bible studies, and training Christian leaders from their midst)
- my friends who have 3 young girls and are working through raising godly children and being loving spouses while using their medical and counseling training in their church and community
- my friends who have “family dinner” every Wednesday — and it doesn’t just mean nuclear family or local church family but anyone around in need of an evening of food and fellowship
- my friends whose relative is a young man on a spiritual quest and who modeled to him, lovingly but unashamedly, a life of faith in Christ
- my married friends who started a family sooner than originally planned but as a result now minister to family and neighbors in unique, inspiring ways, all the while teaching their son what it means to put others first
What stories can you add? We don’t need to go to a far-off land to participate in God’s mission to redeem the world in an absolutely significant way! And what’s more, if we think staying in our hometown is an excuse to participate only by sending others, we are missing out. It’s not about choosing “home missions” or “foreign missions”; it’s not even a matter of “important but more important.” God is doing both, on a much larger scale than we know! We get to discover what part He is calling us to play in this whole world picture and then play that part as our own highest calling.
Yes, missions is a call to the ends of the earth. But it is also a call to the depths of every heart in which God puts us in contact. Keep affirming the call of foreign missionaries, but don’t let that minimize your own call. Keep praying for your missionaries, but keep praying too for your lost friends (and look for the opportunities God gives you in response). If you don’t know any, maybe it’s time for a fresh and personalized mission strategy – you could start with Chester and Timmis’ list of questions above.
Thomas Merton said, “A tree gives glory to God by being a tree.” Someone recently suggested to me that humans must be the only part of creation constantly wishing we were someone or something else than what God made us to be. Let’s look past the reach of our own branches for a bit, take a step back, and see the forest that is God’s mission in the world.