Pay, Pray and Stay
Those three words sum up the missionary mindset of the American church. The "average" Christian in America sees their calling as monetary contributions to support professional missionaries (which is of course important), praying for missions (which is critically important) and staying in place because mission work is for “someone else”. I can feel comfortable in my staying as long as I am praying and paying. This attitude might make sense if the world were overwhelmingly reached for the Gospel with only a few isolated pockets left to reach. The reality is far less rosy but this attitude persists in the church.
I think part of this mindset is, to be blunt, just laziness or apathy. I start that criticism right at my own doorstep. We talk about the Gospel and having a “heart for the lost” but the concerns of our every day life, no matter how mundane or banal, are more important in practice if not in theory. We work hard all day, pick up the kids or run them around to activities, throw together some dinner, watch some TV and hit the hay. Who has time for mission work? Let the professionals go and proclaim the Gospel. Sure there are a billion people in Africa and almost 4 billion in Asia and 700 million in Europe and almost 400 million in South America and the vast majoroty of those billions of people are unreached but I am sure that those missionaries can reach them all with no problem. They keep sending us postcards to put on our "missions" bulletin board in the foyer and we keep sending them money and everyone is happy.
The other problem is that we have been painted a picture of missions that seems out of reach and terrifying to most Christians. When we talk about global missions, what comes to mind? Living in a hut in Africa? Running an orphanage in Haiti? Helping women get out of prostitution in Thailand? The very term “global missions” evokes images of danger, hardship, discomfort. All terrifying to American Christians and a huge barrier to mission involvement. Now you can cluck your tongue at the unfaithfulness of so many Christians but going from the suburbs to the bush is a huge leap and one that most Christians are not spiritually prepared or equipped to take. The church has failed miserably in equipping and preparing the Body for missions. What we are left with is an “all or nothing” missions mentality. Either you pack up the family and head to the Philippines or you sit in your pew and put a check in the offering plate. That isn’t the way it has to be. It cannot be. For every Paul who travelled the known world, there were 100 Christians who witnessed where they lived to people that they knew. We don’t get extra points for degree of difficulty in missions work. The person down the street who comes to Christ because of a relationship with you is just as saved and just as precious as the African or Asian who comes to Christ. All men without exception need Jesus and none of them without exception will hear about Him if no one tells them.
Maybe you aren't called to go to Tanzania or the Sudan or Haiti (but maybe you are!). That doesn't mean you aren't called to mission. I am not even convinced that we need more American Christians to go be “full-time” missionaries in far away lands. I think a lot of our effort should be in equipping local missionaries rather than parachuting American missionaries into foreign nations. Joe the Missionary from Iowa is going to have a harder time witnessing to people in Ecuador than Sam the local Christian who knows the culture and the people. Some of us may be called to go and preach, some to go and equip and many to evangelize right where they are but all of us are called.
We need to abandon both the “professional missionary” mindset and the “all or nothing” mindset. There is no place on Earth that is so thoroughly reached for the Gospel that mission work is not needed. Not in China and not in Chicago or even Chattanooga. The presence of a lot of buildings with the word “church” on their sign is not an indicator of a region that is thoroughly reached with the Gospel.
Jesus is our King and our Lord. He exemplified and modeled our calling. God the Father sent Him to us and He in turn sends us to them (John 20:21). We are His emissaries, His ambassadors, His heralds and we are universally called to this noble task. The call is clear but the question remains: how or if we will respond.
If you are a Christian, your ordination certificate is etched on the heart of flesh God placed in you. Your call to mission is written in blood on a cross on Calvary. Your mission field starts with your own children, goes out your front door and extends to every corner of the world. That is true for every Christian and there are no exceptions. Not every Christian will minister to every people group in every place but every Christian is called to minister to someone somewhere.