Friday, June 8

Missions: Any and everything done in the name of Christ?

My previous post was a tongue-in-cheek description of what missions can become when any and everything done by churches gets counted as "missions." As church missions programs kick into high gear with the coming of summer, fellow IMB missionary, Ken Sorrell reflects upon The Morphing of Missions & Ministry. Ken expresses well my own sentiments about the loose way we use the term "missions." I would invite you to reflect upon his thoughts below...
Over the past quarter century there has been a dilution or morphing of the word "missions". For most of the Christian community it has become a term to describe anything and everything done in the name of Christ outside the walls of the church. Every ministry project and activity is now referred to as a "missions trip."

One extreme example of this shift in thinking can be seen when a church's choir tours for the summer and ends up in Disneyworld. It is publicized as their summer "mission" trip. More common examples are found in the multitude of trips taken by churches and other organizations which perform a myriad of ministries to those less fortunate or in need.

This change has taken place gradually without notice by the vast majority of Christians and missionaries. When you look at the number of churches and mission sending agencies around the world today and examine their purpose and focus, few are intentionally following the biblical mandate of Matthew 28:19 - 20. They are doing good for those in need and most with pure intentions. However, if missions is reduced to just helping people in need, most of those in need will never have the opportunity to hear, understand, respond to the gospel message of Jesus Christ, and mature in their faith.

To state this another way, we have substituted the intent of the second part of the [Great] Commandment for the focus of the Great Commission. If we do not readjust our thinking and practice, we will feed the hungry, cloth the naked, heal the sick, visit those in captivity, house the homeless, parent the orphans, educate the uneducated, and they will still spend eternity in hell when they die.

The answer of course is not to stop meeting needs but to recognize that you can successfully do ministry and never cross the line into biblical missions. However, it seems impossible to be involved in missions and not include some type of ministry in the process. If we continue to ignore the differences between these two terms, thousands, maybe millions of lost souls will be touched by Christians but never changed by Christ.
What do you think about what Ken has written? Are we too general with our understanding of the biblical basis of missions? Has "missions" become an umbrella term for everything the church does outside its four walls?


S.A.M. said...

Guy, I think the terms ministry and missions are the operative terms in this post. Visiting sick people in hospitals or people in prison would, to me, be considered a ministry. I would classify missions, the way I have come to understand it through my short term trips, as church planting, training and going out to reach unreached people groups with the Gospel. Disaster relief may fall into the category of community giving, if that makes any sense. Just my thoughts.

GrayDawn said...

It seems pretty obvious that missions need a “two hands” approach. One hand proclaiming the gospel. One hand meeting needs. There are too many documented cases of people movements beginning because of someone being healed, or some other need being met. I have been at baptisms, where the one being baptized has testified that observing the love among Christians motivated them to make their commitment. (Which must be the opposite of those hypocritical Christians that everyone talks about.) So, practical demonstrations of love and service are weapons of the gospel.

The question arises when churches focus exclusively on one “hand.” (The choir example probably crosses the line. Unless they are touring 2/3 world countries, maybe?) Ideally, churches are using both “hands.” I wouldn’t think this would negate a group going on a “work” trip, provided there is some mechanism for proclamation. For example, a group coming to build\fix houses in Ecuador, in combination with your church planting efforts. Doing work for someone would no doubt be encouraging, but without the other “hand” it isn’t missions.

This discussion may be just semantic, depending on how one views relief or mercy work. If one believes that Christ calls the church to extend mercy, motivated by his love for us, without cost (and time involved in understanding the gospel could be viewed as a cost), then the church would need exert time, energy and resources, not necessarily expecting an audience in return. In that case, the discussion becomes obedience, instead of missions.

And that probably doesn’t clear up anything, does it?

In Christ Alone said...

My thoughts are by far not based on any personal experiences per se. I can talk about ministries and have an understanding about that within or outside the "church" walls. MIssion work to me is obscured by what I see some "church groups" who profess their work to be but sometimes dare I say it?)I don't think they know Chist themselves. These groups come in to the Christian bookstore) that I work at looking for "stuff" to be taken with them to reach people but they don't want it to be too "religious", for fear of offending. Their best equipping would probably be of themselves, eh? That is something people can easily and inexpensively see...if Christ is the One living in and through them...walking amongst them, and helping where needed etc. The work done as mission work sometimes has nothing to do with the Life of Christ....and yet is good work....but "good works" alone does not make a difference in Kingdom work ....does it? Or does it? There are lots of relief agencies doing this type of is good, but is it God? Just reflecting from my very comfortable chair here in Canada. Not judging...just pondering.

GuyMuse said...

SAM, graydawn, and In Christ Alone,

Thanks to each of you for your insightful comments. Jesus' own public ministry involved two main thrusts: healing and proclaiming the Kingdom. Both are still the basis of all we do in missions today. They go hand-in-hand.

What Ken and I are trying to point out though is that "missions" has become a catch phrase for everything that is done outside of the four walls of the church. We need a reminder that Biblical missions is about going, making disciples, baptizing, and teaching.

In our going, ministry to those in our path is a must. In our discipleship we cannot separate ministry to those we are discipling. In our baptizing and teaching we not only "talk the talk", but "walk the walk."

So, yes, I think we are all saying the same thing. Just that we need to make sure that the "main thing" remains the "main thing" and that all the myriad church activities we find to do, are not necessarily "missions."

S.A.M. said...

Guy, by the way, your post from yesterday about the luxury mission trips. Isn't that the way the IMB is? Or am I in for a surprise when we get to FPO? =o)


GuyMuse said...


You're in for a major SHOCK! However, our FPO, while not like the "luxury mission trips" described in the previous post, was a memorable experience which we loved. Hope it is a good experience for you guys as well.

Tim Patterson said...


Bear with me as I jump into this from a technical perspective...

Merriam Webster says this about the word mission:

"Etymology: New Latin, Medieval Latin, & Latin... New Latin, mission- missio religious mission; from Medieval Latin, task assigned; from Latin, act of sending; from mittere, to send... Date: 1530."

"...a body of persons sent to perform a service or carry on an activity..."

"...a specific task with which a person or a group is charged..."

Mission is a Latin word and originally described any task assigned by the church, or a group sent by the church. So, technically, this word can be used to describe anything the church sends their people to do. The missionaries are "sent ones". Going on a mission implies that there is a specific task we are sent to accomplish, no matter what that task may be. (The medieval Catholic church sent their missionaries to do some rather interesting missionary work)!

So, the debate should not be about if we can call it "mission". (Technically, you can call the choir tour a mission). It should be about the purpose of the mission. Are sending churches intentionally following a Biblical pattern when they send their people on a mission (specific task to accomplish)?

Also note that a mission normally involved more than one person... it was not an individual task. The individual missionary is a western concept from our culture.

If we want to use a more Biblical term, we need to go back to the word "apostle". But that is not the point. Let's not stress over it if stateside churches call a choir trip a "mission". Instead, let's stress to those churches the Biblical mission... "make disciples of all nations".

This is one of the main reasons we are in the states right now and working from this end. We want to influence our church (and hopefully others) to discover Biblical mission. We are encouraged by the progress our people are making in just a short time. I hope we can develop a sending church model that can help others to follow the Biblical pattern for mission.

GuyMuse said...


Excellent observations. I think you are right in saying that what needs to be emphasized is "Biblical Missions" and what this entails--making disciples of the nations--and how we can further develop a sending church model that emulates this mission. All this to say, more people need to be reading Ken Sorrell's blog which is entitled "Return to Biblical Missions"! Ken, if you're reading, you are on to an important thing, don't give up, keep at it!

Kevin, Somewhere in South America said...


I believe Ken has made a very important statement that the church needs to hear. We have diluted the idea of missions, right along with many other things that pass for ministry. I often asked youth leaders why they would invest thousands in a trip to Six Flags, yet place so little emphasis on true ministry. The answer was generally the same: today's youth cannot "handle" ministry. We know this is not true. The truth of American Christianity was addressed by A. W. Tozer about 1960: we have embraced the great god called "Entertainment." This, in part, gives a background to what Ken has said.

Burkhalter Ministry said...

Love it! I totally agree. I am so excited about our opportunity to come and learn from you and your team.... and hopefully get to get our hands dirty in regards to evangelism etc.. Praying for the spirit of God to move in a mighty way.
I too have a heart for social injustices, ministering to the poor, those with HIV, etc... But I agree, how dare we go on these "missions" coming back feeling so good about ourselves, while we have failed to bring the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. Our western money, ideas, strategies, buildings, etc... are not what they need. They need Jesus. I was interested to read about a Chinese house church pastor sharing how western "missionaries" hindered their ministry at times and caused division.
I could go on...

GuyMuse said...


The god of entertainment has led us to evaluate everything based upon how it benefits me personally. What do I get out of it? The Biblical idea of dying to self is strangely absent from our thinking as modern Christians. This certainly colors our understanding of "missions" as well.


One of the most difficult things we deal with is seeing such poverty and physical need all around us. James asks, how can the love of God be in us if we ignore the needs of our brothers? One of the most meaningful things I see in my fellow believers here is that even in the midst of their own material needs, they share what little they have with those who have even less. I just received a call from a brother who barely has bus money to get around, and yet he called to ask if we might be able to donate any used clothing to help those amongst whom he is planting a new church. The two go hand-in-hand. He is helping to relieve their material needs, but is making disciples of them.