He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" - Romans 8:32

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Saturday, December 19, 2009 

That Thing Missionary Speakers Do

Listening through John Piper's Desiring God on audiobook (which I've also read more than once), I heard the good brother go on and on about missions, urging... well, apparently, every reader to go out to The Mission Field. Piper particularly leaned on pressing the point of taking the Gospel to people who had never had a Gospel witness before.

This passion is expressed by Paul in Romans 15:20-21, where the apostle says "I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation,
but as it is written, 'Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.'"

And I wondered, as I always do when I hear such talk, "Why do missionary speakers so seldom tell of doing that?"

Here's what I mean. I remember the very first missionary speaker I ever heard as a Christian, 35-36 years ago. It was in a Bible Presbyterian church. They were talking about a mission in India. What do I remember them sharing? They shared about a tiger attack... and about teaching the kids to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

That's right: Indian kids, in India, learning the American flag salute.

Over the years, I've heard missionary speakers go on at length about visas, landing strips, diet, diseases, and various social projects.

One missionary talked about how important it was to regain what we had lost at the Reformation (!) — by which he meant monastic disciplines. You know, learning to be silent, to listen for God's extra-canonical voice in the stillness. We were too obsessed with the Bible, demanding that practices be found in the Bible.

(I talked with him afterwards to make sure I'd heard him right. I had. He was also a huge Blackaby fan. Surprise! Ideas have consequences, and horrible ideas have horrible consequences.)

The man did mention a boy becoming a Christian, but that was just in passing. It wasn't his focus.

What I have almost never heard a missionary talk about, in thirty-six years of churchgoing from both sides of the pulpit, is preaching Christ in foreign cultures, to people who had never heard of Him.

This has been consistent, in my experience. When people (like Piper) are trying to pressure folks to go "to the field" (i.e. not-America), it's all about preaching Christ to those who have never heard. But when I hear missionaries in church telling us what they actually do, it is virtually always about anything but that.

Why the disconnect?

It's an odd thing. I have the minority view that any church not located in Jerusalem is a missionary church. It isn't a "not where Christ has already been named" church, but it's still a mission. Those pastors and workers preach Christ all the time. When (say) folks like Ray Comfort share about their work, they don't talk about how hard it is to get a driver's license or how high taxes are. They relay stories about telling sinners of Christ, and pointing them to the Savior.

But when a missionary gets a pulpit... well, do you think I've just been in the wrong place? Almost always? For thirty-six-plus years, including Missions Week at Biola University? Has your experience been different from mine?

See, if I'm going to participate in some missionary endeavor, I'm going to ask myself some questions. One big consideration is going to be, "Why do you need to travel ___ thousand miles to do that? Aren't there people there, indigenous folks, already doing that? Wouldn't it be wiser just to send them money to do what they're already doing, than to relocate a person or a family to duplicate labor?"

One response might be that these tales of odd clothes and visas are meant to involve hearers in the details of the mission's work.

It seems to me however that, given the brief opportunity missionaries have, the time is better spent talking about preaching Christ to those who haven't heard. Isn't that what the mission is about? Are they doing that? It isn't supposed to be a travelogue, right? The goal isn't to inspire people to want to see the world, right?

Isn't a talk about preaching Christ to the lost likelier to stir Christian hearts to want to support a ministry that isn't merely building clean bathrooms or teaching English, but is actually preaching Christ?

This isn't an attack. It's a question, a thought, and a concern.


- Author of this blog, Dan Phillips, encourages you to DISCUSS HERE

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