This summer we’ve been in a series of blogs on WHAT’S REALLY IMPORTANT? So far we’ve looked at the importance of the CHURCH, PREACHING, BAPTISM, THE LORD’S SUPPER and THE INVITATION. Today we want to look at MISSIONS and attempt to answer the question ARE MISSIONS REALLY THAT IMPORTANT?
It’s an old joke, but it makes the point. As the Pastor was arriving at the home of one of his members, one of the family’s children was leaving to go get an ice cream cone. Half teasing, the Pastor asked the boy, “Why don’t you save that dollar and give it to a missionary?” The quick witted youngster responded, “I thought about that. But I think I’ll buy the ice cream cone and ask the person at the store to give the dollar to a missionary.”
When it comes to MISSIONS a lot of people and churches want to “pass the buck,” literally. If you’re a Christian you can’t do that. You and I have a God-given, Jesus-mandated mission: The GREAT COMMISSION (Co-Mission) found in Matthew 28:18-20, “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
John Piper said, “There are three possibilities with the Great Commission. You can go. You can send. Or you can be disobedient. Ignoring the cause is not a Christian option.”
Just before Jesus ascended into Heaven, from the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem, He said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In other words, wherever we go, we need to be on mission reaching every man, woman, boy and girl with the Gospel. Everything we do ought to help bring people to Jesus. But there is also a unique area within everything else we do as Christians, and churches specifically, called missions.
Since the Christian missionary enterprise began in Jerusalem, the whole world is the mission field.
J. Oswald Smith said, “The mission of the church is missions.” Charles Spurgeon said, “If there be any one point in which the Christian Church ought to keep its fervor at a white heat, it is concerning missions. If there be anything about which we cannot tolerate lukewarmness, it is the matter of sending the gospel to a dying world.” I’m specifically referring to that ministry among ministries within the local church called missions. Where we send missionaries, people who give their full time and wholehearted effort to reach people of other cultures and countries or serve in a supporting role for those who do.
Not all giving is “missions” giving.
Robert Lupton wrote an excellent book called TOXIC CHARITY: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How To Reverse It). He addressed the blurring of lines between “charitable work” and “mission work.” He said, “Now, everyone is getting in on the charity train, from rock groups to youth groups, from TV celebrities to elementary-school children, from Fortune 500 corporations to campus fraternities.” 1
When you go through the drive-thru at McDonalds, along with getting your Big Mac, large fries and large Diet Coke, you’re invited to donate your change to the Ronald McDonald house. A great cause. But that’s charitable work, not mission work. When you go to Rainforest Cafe, they invite you to donate a portion of your bill or more to help save the rainforests. Again, a good cause (charitable work). But it’s not God’s cause: reaching people with the gospel of JESUS CHRIST.
Lupton continues, “Nearly every church, business, and organization gets involved in some sort of service project. College spring-break service projects and church missions trips have become the norm. Corporations realize they can enhance their images through cause-related marketing while also building up employee loyalty and pride in the company. The compassion industry is almost universally accepted as a virtuous and constructive enterprise.
But what is so surprising is that its outcomes are almost entirely unexamined. The food we ship to Haiti, the well we dig in Sudan, the clothes we distribute in inner-city Detroit – all seem like such worthy efforts. Yet those closest to the ground – on the receiving end of this outpouring of generosity – quietly admit that it may be hurting more than helping. How? Dependency. Destroying personal initiative. When we do for those in need what they have the capacity to do for themselves, we disempower them.
Africa can serve as a large-scale example of the problem. In the last fifty years, the continent has received $1 trillion in benevolent aid. How effective has this aid been? Country by country, Africans are worse off today than they were a half century ago. Overall per-capita income is lower today than in the 1970s. Over half of Africa’s 700 million population lives on less than $1 a day. Life expectancy has stagnated, and adult literacy has plummeted below pre-1980 levels.” 2
Businesses, corporations and all kinds of organizations have learned they can sell more products and move more merchandise when they move their customers by adding the charitable angle to whatever they are selling. And the sad side effect is some Christian people mistakenly believe they’re contributing to genuine mission work when they buy a meal or purchase some merchandise, etc., because of the cause the business or organization claims to support. But let’s be clear: while mission work is charitable work, not all charitable work is mission work.
We’re on a MISSION from God.
Every Christian and every church should take seriously this idea of missions. Because, we’re literally on a mission from God: to bring people to JESUS and make fully devoted disciples of them. Every mission, missionary or ministry we support should be bringing people to JESUS and helping make fully devoted disciples of them.
The Bible doesn’t say how much a church or individual Christian should be giving to missions. At Crossroads, our practice has always been to begin with a tithe, giving at least 10% of everything given to our general fund to missions. That will be at least $1.3 million given to missions this year from our general fund and most likely more. On top of that, we give away over half a million dollars or more annually through our Change for a Dollar program, meeting the needs of people in our community, most of whom have never been on our church campus. In addition, we give tens of thousands of dollars of free food to people in our community through our Helping Hands ministry and also provide thousands of dollars annually in scholarships for Crossroads’ Bible college students studying for ministry or mission work. We also invest thousands of dollars in our annual Day of Service and annual short-term mission trips. Everything we do has the priority of “Connecting people to God and to one another.”
As a member of our church, 20-30% of what you give each week goes directly to missions and mission related ministries as stated above, while the other 70-80% goes to support those who are laboring full-time in the field here, reaching people for Christ and provides the facilities and utilities, equipment and support needed to fully fund the mission here. The unique reward of being in a local church like Crossroads, is that we are able to see with our own eyes and touch with our own hands the fruits of our labors and the fruitfulness of our giving.
“Let’s be clear: while mission work is charitable work, not all charitable work is mission work.”
I can’t speak for other churches, but here at Crossroads when you and I give we are helping fuel one of the most effective soul-winning, disciple-making ministries in the world. Reaching thousands here at home and tens of thousands through the missions, missionaries and ministries we support around the nation and the world year after year.
Every mission, missionary and ministry we support through our missions’ ministry (see Crossroads’ missions here) has been thoroughly vetted by our staff and elders and are held to the same high standards we have for all of our leaders and ministries. Every three years we have all of our missionaries return home for a World Missions Conference. Having missionaries return home to the supporting church on a regular basis should be a high priority for every church. Having church staff, leaders or members visit the mission or missionary on a regular basis is equally important. Why? To ensure accessibility, authenticity, accountability and productivity.
Any mission, missionary or ministry not connected to or under the covering of a local church should be held to even greater scrutiny. For example, any mission, ministry or missionary that requests support, but hesitates or prevaricates when it comes to accountability, should be suspect. We should also be leery of ministers/missionaries/ministries who are always raising funds on the backs of those who suffer. Yet, they never seem to suffer. In fact, they always seem to somehow prosper. We need to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16) not falling for the latest “crisis du jour,” that is more often than not, merely another fundraiser for the leaders to lavish themselves in luxury while those who serve them suffer in misery.
The mission is clear: we are to reach people for JESUS and make disciples. We need to make sure we stay on mission as individuals and as a church. The best way to do that is stay on the front lines ourselves, doing everything we can, using every resource at our disposal to reach people for JESUS. It’s not an easy thing or a once a week thing.
Mark Batterson, in his book ALL IN said, “When did we start believing that God wants to send us to safe places to do easy things? That faithfulness is holding the fort? That playing it safe is safe? That there is any greater privilege than sacrifice? That radical is anything but normal? Jesus didn’t die to keep us safe. He died to make us dangerous. Faithfulness is not holding the fort. It’s storming the gates of hell. The will of God is not an insurance plan. It’s a daring plan. The complete surrender of your life to the cause of Christ isn’t radical. It’s normal. It’s time to quit living as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death. It’s time to go all in and all out for the All in All.” 3
MISSIONS are REALLY important. But the most important thing of all is that YOU and I are ALL IN, on the front lines, carrying out the greatest mission of all time, every day with everything we’ve got. To paraphrase John Piper, “We can go. We can send. Or we can be disobedient. But ignoring the cause is not an option.”
© 2017. Barry L. Cameron
[The dates for our upcoming World Missions Conference are November 4-5, 2017.]
1 Lupton, Robert D. Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (and How to Reverse It). New York: HarperOne, 2012. Pg. 35. Print.
2 Lupton, Robert D. Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (and How to Reverse It). New York: HarperOne, 2012. Pg. 2-3. Print.
3 Batterson, Mark. All In: You Are One Decision Away from a Totally Different Life. Zondervan. 2015. Pg. 13-14. Print.
Barry L. Cameron has been the Senior Pastor of Crossroads since 1992 when the church was averaging 188 in morning worship. Pastor Cameron and his wife, Janis, have three children and two grandsons. He’s the author of the bestseller: The ABCs of Financial Freedom, Contagious Generosity, and The Financial Freedom Workbook. The Cameron family has been completely debt free since November 2001.