Sunday, January 18, 2004

Evangelism and Missions

My church has historically had something of a focus on missions, by which I mean reaching people outside of my country with the gospel. I've really appreciated that focus.

But I had a talk with one of the leaders of my church today, and it appears we are considering redefining "missions" as meaning reaching people with the gospel, regardless of where they live.

In a way that sounds noble - after all, we want to reach everybody with the gospel - but it discourages me.

If, for my church, "missions" has meant "reaching people outside of the U.S. with the gospel," and now just means, "reaching people with the gospel," then I fear we will consider we are "doing missions" if we simply reach out to our community. Being in our face, lost people nearby compel our attention much more easily than lost people hundreds or thousands of miles away, but distant people are just as real. I fear that if we don't differentiate between near and far, that people will look at the missions budget and if it is a healthy percentage of the church's budget, they'll incorrectly feel the church is doing what Jesus commanded.

For that reason I prefer the word "evangelism" for reaching people nearby, and "missions" for reaching people far away, though some people feel if you cross cultural boundaries with the gospel, that's missions. I'm not inclined to argue that, but if people hold this view then I would insist on dividing missions into "home missions" and "foreign missions," or "A" and "B," or "cat" and "dog." I really don't care what the word is, I just want the concepts kept separate.

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