On Missions and Missionaries

When I was a kid, my church supported a number of missionaries—people who heard the Holy Spirit’s call on their lives, left the culture they knew behind, and travelled to some far-off land to proclaim the gospel.

In our foyer was a missions bulletin board, and at one point it had a map of the world with pins where the missionaries were stationed. On the side were their pictures and short descriptions of their work, along with their latest prayer letter.

Every once in a while, a missionary would come back to Canada on furlough and travel around to various churches talking about their work and trying to raise new support for when they went back.

And I have to be honest: those weren’t my favourite Sundays.

Despite the fact that these very real people came to tell very real stories and talk about the very real things the Holy Spirit was doing, there was a disconnect for me. Their experiences were so foreign that I couldn’t find a foothold from which I could empathize with the work they were doing.

What’s more, they usually talked a lot longer than our pastor did, and as a kid I got bored and just wanted to go home.

Then there was the guilt and fear. Every time a missionary talked about the good things they were doing, I felt like they were saying, “I’m better than you because I’m doing the hard work of the kingdom.” (Note: that's never what they were actually saying.)

And my fear was always that if I wasn’t careful, maybe God would make me go somewhere, too, and I didn’t want to go. Then I just felt more guilty: why didn’t I want to go? Couldn’t I see the need? Was my heart that hard? If I were a good Christian, I’d be as excited about the work of missions as these missionaries were.

As you can tell, I had a lot of issues as a kid.

As I’ve thought about it, I think I see where the problem arose. I didn’t understand the concept of missions correctly. In my mind, I created two categories: the people who did “missions” and the people who didn’t.

It’s funny how the Bible doesn’t present that worldview at all.

The reality is that the difference between people we call “missionaries” and everyone else isn’t a difference of kind but of context. Every disciple of Jesus has a mandate to go and make disciples. Every disciple of Jesus is called to be his witness. Every disciple of Jesus has been sent into culture with the good news of the gospel of Jesus to proclaim the kingdom and watch the Holy Spirit transform hearts.

Every disciple of Jesus is a missionary.

Here’s why I’m saying all of this. This Sunday at Parkland is Missions Sunday. We’re going to be commissioning a missionary couple—Nadeem and Jamila Qazi—as they leave for Pakistan to do the work the Spirit has placed on their hearts. That work is hard work. It’s the kind of work that I lack the courage to do. It’s the kind of work that involves very real risks to their safety and their very lives.

Our job, as their sending church, is to provide them with the spiritual covering that they will need as they go. And I want you to feel that responsibility deeply, not because we manipulate your emotions, but because the Spirit of God lays it on your heart.

What’s more, I want you to walk away from this Sunday’s service with a renewed passion for your own call to missions. Your context is different from the Qazis, it’s different from mine, and it’s different from the person who will sit at the table next to you.

But it’s work that we all do together, supporting one another, encouraging each other, and celebrating together the diverse ways that the Spirit works to call sinners to repentance and abundant life in Jesus.

Whether your context is Karachi or your kitchen, you are a missionary.

I hope to see you this Sunday as we celebrate together the amazing work that God is doing to his glory alone.

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