Our token missionary (or a model, not the model, but an excellent model)
Let’s pause and take a moment to consider the church’s token missionary for all time, namely Paul, an apostle of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. He killed many of the first Christians and wrote most of the New Testament. Wow! What a story. And there’s so much more about his life and writings, inspired by God. He’s the first great missionary. Many of us like to bring up Paul’s ambition to preach the gospel where Jesus has not yet been named. It’s fodder for the over-emphasis of going to unreached peoples and likely neglecting the “reached”.
I think it’s a grand ambition clearly given him by God. And that’s just it. Paul’s is a unique moment in the history of redemption. God used him in a special way at that time and place to reach mostly Gentiles throughout the Roman Empire. And as we read Paul’s letters and the book of Acts, we want to glean from him every ounce of missionary zeal and method we can. But, it’s possible that we quite often force Paul to exemplify strategy more than he actually does. If there’s anything Paul is clearly pushing on us, it’s the gospel and its implications for life.
I’d like to suggest that we learn more from Paul’s gospel than Paul’s strategy (for which P.T. O’Brien argues in Gospel and Mission in the Writings of Paul). Paul shows us an excellent model of a good missionary. Paul speaks of doing whatever he can to reach more people: “[T]he salvation of men and women was Paul’s goal (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). His earnest desire was to win Jews, Gentiles and weak Christians, that is, to save them completely so that they would be pure and blameless at the second coming” (O’Brien, 137). That’s really liberating. Paul demonstrates for us that it’s not so much about what we can do, but it’s about following the one who can do it all. It’s about loving our Lord and his sweet, saving grace. We don’t all have to be just like Paul or William Carey or Adoniram Judson. And we know that, but I think we tend to place ourselves into other people’s stories. We see their success and try to emulate with exaction. We read the book. Let’s do what they did. He had no support. Let’s go without support. He parachuted in. Let’s skydive with thousands of gospel tracts littering from a bag in the air. We retrace their steps and try to relive their life. One of my pastors regularly says, “Live your script.” You’re part of God’s story, and his story has a good ending. It goes, “And they were faithful and fruitful ever after among all peoples everywhere because… Jesus.” It’s his story. He never forgets.
God is everywhere, join now (or God’s whole plan includes our part)
God’s whole plan to include us might seem to limit his reach (our calling, timing, and gifting), but it actually extends our reach to the whole world (his ongoing mission). Just like Paul, God’s plan of redemption includes us, so that our calling is specifically for us. Our many strategies coincide with God’s plan but never supersede his goals. He calls individuals to specific people and tasks. He calls single churches to specific people and tasks. He calls networks and movements to specific people and tasks. In every case, he does it through his Word by the Spirit within the Body of Christ at a unique time and place.
The time in which we are living is just that, our moment. God’s people throughout the world are taking note of the grand internationalization and glocalization happening in some way or another on every continent. Internationalization refers to the involvement or affect of multiple international entities on someone or something. Glocalization refers to the availability of goods and services from one part of the world to the other. This means for us mission-minded people that we are more likely to share the gospel with all people everywhere than ever before. And most populations are moving to the city. We hardly need to gather people together using an event or promotion. They’re already together. And we live in the Information Age. Social media and global research allows us quick and extensive impact everywhere. The access we have to the rest of the world is unprecedented, be it a refugee at our table to share a meal or all the places our passports allow us to travel to.
And God has gifted each one of us. Maybe it’s your entrepreneurial spirit and prowess or your medical acumen and experience that will get you in. We have more money and resources than we know what to do with. Opportunities are everywhere. The need is greater than ever. Every device that accesses porn instead of the Bible needs to be reached. We live in the richest and most destitute of times. Some have everything and others are walking miles for water every day. People and populations are never static but always in flux. As long as babies are being born, growing up, and dying, our reach extends to all people everywhere because he has not forgotten. And all kinds of things we never expected are happening all around us every day, week, month, and year. But God is unchanging. He is faithful. He never forgets. As long as we’re alive, the time is ripe for planting the seeds of the gospel everywhere.
We can’t be everywhere at one time or even in our lifetime, so how do we join God on his mission for all people everywhere? God is everywhere all the time, so his mission is always going forward in general. You and I aren’t everywhere all the time, so his ambition in each of us works its way out specially and uniquely in certain moments and locations. Each one of us has been gifted by God to be who we are in Christ. Each of us knows (or can learn) a science, skill, or trade. Each of us wants to live and act based upon our personal story within God’s story. Our story includes our family background, past experiences, personality and abilities, relationships, desires and dreams, and God’s wisdom through his Word among his people. We know the gospel, its implications, and its transformative power in our life. Without distinction, we go with God to all people everywhere (a generalized mission), and as we go, each of us has been created and gifted for such a time as this (specialized ambition). So, like Paul, we all preach the gospel to all people everywhere, and we go here or there for this or that purpose at just the right time (Ephesians 3:8-9); however, unlike him, our mission is not particularly to Gentiles in the Roman Empire in the first century. If we’re joining God in his mission first, then the specifics of our mission will certainly reach all people everywhere. And like God, we never forget.
God is limitless
To him, there is no forgotten place. All is before him. We are limited, and many of us have forgotten, but “the dynamic of the gospel demands that we be committed to its ongoing advance, whatever form it takes” (O’Brien, 139). We need not limit ourselves to only unreached people and places. God wants all people everywhere to know Jesus and come to him in the grace he supplies. Our mission is limited to men and earth’s boundaries, but God’s mission is committed to Jesus and heaven’s bright shores. There is no end to the extent of his kingdom. It’s all his. There’s no end to the extent of his cross. Our justification is full. There’s no end to the reach of his grace. It’s amazing and overflows all bounds. And there’s no end to the reach of his name and renown. All people everywhere will one day bow and confess. They will know him as Lord and Savior, or they will not. May we not forget anyone and limit ourselves for the sake of God’s mission. God never forgets, nor should we.
Originally published on the Upstream Collective. Reprinted with permission.