Yesterday was the launch of one of two missions teams from Grace Christian School that are going to minister to a total of four Alaska Native villages. TEAM ONE is made up of a handful of GCS students and their first stop will be the village of Nulato. They will be there for a few days and then they will go on to Koyuk for the final few days. Pete and Sandy Johnson are leaders and they have been preparing with eager anticipation to go! I have to admit, with our spring snow weather, I wasn’t sure they would be able to take off from the runway, but they did and they made it safely.
I am waiting with anticipation to find out how their student-to-student ministry went. Before takeoff there was already an unexpected variable in Koyuk, where our team had just received word that their water supply has been interrupted. What this means exactly, I’m not sure—probably no running water. What I understand is our team needs to be prepared to be sparse on water use, in terms of no real showers and only drinking bottled water when available etc. In short: roughing it.
Okay, that said, the correspondence leading up to the team’s arrival was warm and congenial. Peter reassured their spokesperson (the one saying, “BTW, we do not have running water right now”) that we are coming to help! This was apparently a good upfront statement to make and posture to take entering this village community. I’m gathering these connections will largely be in the first impressions phase, so my hope is that relationships will be formed in unscheduled circumstances in both high schools (GCS students with Nulato students and likewise in Koyuk). This is the same line of thinking and prayer requests for TEAM TWO, leaving next week.
Just writing a little bit about these trips stirs my heart with excitement. Just the sheer adventure of going somewhere new to do something uncommon, for the sole purpose of going on a mission for God is inspiring. I suppose any time you bring up missions, for believers, there is something of romance to follow.
Missions as a category has forever been ranked as “Christianity 2.0,” but should it be? I confess I have found myself back-peddling when preachers, missionaries, or laymen level subtle rebukes for believers being lax on missions. “I mean, what are we really all about if we are not in sync with missions?” Everything else in church life feels almost like a waste of time if missions is not at the forefront of it all.
So let me respond to this idea by trying to offer a balanced view of missions in the church, in relationship to everything else going on in the church. Off the top, allow me to deconstruct one bad habit I’ve experienced my whole life within church life. This is what I would call “missions guilt.” I think anybody using mission involvement (or lack thereof) as a guilt motivator is off base. This goes for any ministry within the church, such as giving, going, sending, doing, serving, bible studying, etc. Leveraging guilt to indict sins never committed is a flat “no no” and is a sin. The Apostle Peter describes this as “domineering over those in your charge” (1 Pet. 5:3). Inadvertently making missions feel like an unmet expectation will only cause people to recoil at the thought of participating in missions, so let’s not do that.
So, that said, “What is missions, really?” Defining missions is more of a difficult task than you might think, especially in terms of what is to be considered “inside” and what is “outside” of this definition. Within the church and church movements (think in terms of all para-church missions agencies and missions conferences), many have done their best to define missions and I think some definitions are more broad to say anything under evangelism is missions, while others, more narrow have clear prerequisites (mostly biblical?) that must be in place before defining something as missions.
So, missions can either be described as going across the street to a neighbor’s house—the broadest sense of definition—or something exceedingly more narrow. A more narrow definition would say it must be cross-cultural, across a language barrier, or primarily involve going to a place where the gospel has not yet been heard, translated, or perhaps ever understood. Now, we're getting to the good stuff!
If you swing the pendulum all the way back, then, missions is basic evangelism, meaning any time you obey Jesus’ Great Commission to make disciples (cf. Matt. 28:18-20), you are performing mission work. I recognize this kind of debate is opening a can of worms, which I am not going to take the time to really solve, but with that said, whenever you attempt to define anything in terms of church life, you should, paraphrasing the late John Stott, go to the Bible’s "inspired history book," the book of Acts. He said regarding Acts: “We would know nothing of the true history of the early church if we did not have the book of Acts." Incidentally, Stott’s comment surrounds the highly controversial topic of speaking in tongues, and in particular what it would have been like to witness these language gifts spoken and interpreted in the early church (i.e. 1 Corinthians 12-14). Using Stott’s logic you can only conclude that you cannot know much of anything about tongues unless you read the primary story where people first spoke in tongues in Acts 2.
So if speaking in tongues doesn’t look like people under the control of the Holy Spirit literally speaking real ethnic languages [glossolalia] otherwise unknown to the speaker, but known within our world, and where people are then interpreting them for edification, then whatever people are doing, it’s not speaking in tongues. Using this same line of reasoning, if your definition of missions does not look summarily similar to what the early church did in Acts, then you might be doing a whole lot of really great things, while not really doing missions.
So, what does Acts tell us missions looks like? I guess the simple answer is to ask you to read Acts 13-28, which gives the detailed stories of the first, second, and third missionary journeys. This is where Paul comes on the scene and where he and his colleague Barnabas travel to plant churches around the coastal cities in the Mediterranean Sea. Paul and Barnabas part ways and Paul and Silas pick up with the second missionary journey, followed by the third which chiefly has Paul front and center. All three missions trips evangelize converts and plant churches around the Mediterranean Sea, followed by ongoing, deep relational fellowship with each new church.
I want to leave this blog asking you to follow me with a homework assignment. Read Acts 13-28 and look for 8 markers (listed below) that will help to define missions.
- God opens the door for each particular mission by his providential hand.
- Qualified men are sent, and men and women are raised up.
- Churches launch those sent and stay to support the work.
- Demons inevitably interfere with the mission.
- Apologetics are taught and preached in appropriate settings.
- Persecution and suffering are consequential to the gospel being taught.
- Pulpits, leaders, and churches are planted.
- Relationships between sending and planted churches are perpetuated.
Remember to pray for our two Grace 2 ALASKA MISSIONS teams, this week and next!