This is the first installment in a series I’ve entitled “Love Where You Live.”
In this series, we will explore truths about mission and evangelism to offer practical ways you can partner with Christ to reach the people in your life who are far from him.
When we talk about “mission” or being “missional,” a lot of different images and concepts come to mind. Some people think of the cross-cultural work a missionary undertakes when she or he plants themselves in a distant land for the purpose of taking the gospel.
Others may think of a church’s organizational “mission statement” that may be on the website or in the church’s print publications. Still others apply the word to almost anything. (I once heard a well-meaning church leader refer to the lighting in their sanctuary as “missional.”)1
But when we talk about the missio Dei (Latin for “mission of God”), we are referring to God’s grand effort to reconcile all of creation to himself through the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. The chief priority in that reconciliatory mission is the redemption of humanity, which has rebelled against God (Gen. 3) but, in Christ, is provided with the path toward reconciliation into right relationship with God.
It’s important at the onset of this series that we understand that the mission of God is, well, just that—God’s mission. It is God’s mission that we are called to participate in. We don’t “do mission for God.” We partner with the Lord in the reconciliatory work he is already doing in the world and in people’s hearts. We don’t “evangelize for Jesus” inasmuch as we partner with the Holy Spirit through evangelism, because it is the Spirit, not us, who is ultimately responsible for pointing people to Jesus.
We are his missionary people, placed in our communities to join him in his mission. While that includes acts of justice, advocacy, mercy, and generosity, it also—and as a primary focus—includes evangelism. That means telling people about Jesus—it is from our declaring of the gospel that our demonstrations of the gospel should flow.
Facts are a Tool, not a Weapon
I have often been quoted as saying, “Facts are your friends, even if they disagree with you.” I still hold to that statement. But when it comes to sharing the gospel with the people in your life, the transmission of facts should not become our primary motivating force. Facts may be your friend, but the mission of God, as revealed in the Bible, remains our priority.
This has two relevant implications to better inform how we do evangelism in this cultural moment. First, evangelism is not simply communicating a set of doctrinal beliefs or a gospel presentation formula. Evangelism is not simply the transmission of a message, like a radio program traveling the air waves. That can be a component of our evangelistic efforts, but if that’s all it is, it will fall flat.
Second, sometimes people assume that evangelism is posting their religious “facts” on social media, correcting someone else’s assumptions about Christianity, or forms of what can be called “I just tell it like it is”-style evangelism. But in reality, this form of “evangelism” is just being rude with a religious stamp of approval put on it.
I like what Andy Crouch says: “The church’s mission is to embody and enact the good news of Jesus Christ in ways that are both faithful and culturally relevant.”2 We need to approach our cultural moment with an awareness of the realities we face on the ground while being rooted in God’s Word—committed and faithful to his mission, which is to be executed in a spirit of embodied love. We need to embody the good news, not simply communicate it.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we Americans can be a tad self-obsessed. The widespread reporting of decline of Christian affiliation in North America can create this idea in our minds that the Church is in trouble—that it’s the end of the road for Christianity. This in turn fuels the fervor of what is commonly called the “culture wars,” causing Christians in America to think they need to fight to recover cultural ground that has been lost.
1I describe this dilemma in more detail in my contributing chapter to “Conversations on When Everything is Missions“ (Bottomline Media, 2020).
2Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, 2008.