Luke 24:47b
“. . . to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

There was a time, within my lifetime, when we lived in a culture where the world would come to our houses of worship and let us tell them about Jesus. Not any more. That culture is now far far away, long long gone, having died somewhere along the way.

This is sad, as is the fact we still act toward the lost according to paradigms we developed in that now-extinct culture. We think “gather and herd” rather than “go and tell.”

USA Christians haven’t always had this church-house mentality. The Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, intending not to hide in religious buildings, but to be a city set on a hill, exposed to the whole world. The Great Awakening was made possible when its greatest preachers, Whitefield and the Wesleys, were forced to preach outside church buildings. In the fields they were able to tell the world, to preach to multitudes that never could have fit in church buildings. Billy Graham used large venues and sports stadiums to reach the masses.

Somewhere along the way we USA believers adopted an Alamo mentality. A mean secular siege has been launched against us to remove us from public forums. Our response has been to keep retreating deeper and deeper into our church houses.

Buildings we built as conveniences to keep us warm in winter, cool in summer, dry in rain, and to allow us a place to gather to launch campaigns into the world, somehow became fortresses with bars that began keeping lost people out. Then, horror of horrors, our buildings became prisons, and began keeping us in.

Our best opportunities for missions have always been out there in the world. Our biggest obstacles to missions are often here in the church-house. We somehow somewhere reversed these two in our thinking. We thought our main obstacles to missions were outside, and decided we could overcome them best by bringing lost people into our church buildings to hear us tell them about Jesus. We believed we were creating inside our church buildings better opportunities for the lost to be saved. This thinking has come back to haunt us. Now our biggest obstacle to missions is inside our church buildings, yea in us. We seem determined not to go out there where the best opportunities for missions are.

In missions, USA Christians are facing a crisis, a combination of danger and opportunity. Our greatest danger is to lose the opportunity we have, to let it slip away due to a shortage of workers willing to leave our buildings and go tell the world about Jesus.

We need to get our thinking right. Christ was not crucified in a church service, on a pulpit between two chandeliers beneath a stained glass window. He died in plain view of scoffers, on a cross out in the highways and byways of life.

The Holy Spirit called attention to Jesus that day out in the midst of a sinful world and still wants the lost to see Him in their midst. The Holy Spirit desires to use us out there, in reconnaissance missions, in search and rescue operations.

He calls us to daring exploits, but we entangle Him in the barracks, having Him oversee mumps and measles of our souls. He has to feel cramped, caged.

When a boy, I delighted in going to the St. Louis Zoo and enjoying the antics of Phil the Gorilla. One of the largest gorillas on record, about 600 pounds, Phil enjoyed teasing Zoo goers. He nonchalantly seemed to ignore onlookers, but once a good sized crowd gathered, he jumped into his little pool, splashing water on everyone. While the crowd shrieked, Phil roared with delight.

Phil died while I was still young. He was so popular that the Zoo had his body stuffed and put on display. I go see it when I visit the Zoo.

What seemed playful to me as a boy has turned sad to me as a man. I now plainly see Phil obviously was not meant to splash water on kids. His huge bulking form and fierce eyes bespeak a king who was meant to rule a domain somewhere in his native Cameroon. He was not meant to be caged in a Zoo.

I fear we may be doing a similar injustice to the Holy Spirit. He is Lord, deserving and seeking to rule over people out there in the real world, but we have Him locked up, tending to our petty wounds.

Our Master, not wanting us or Himself to be caged, told us to go. He is opening doors next door and all around the world. He expects us to go through them. When God opened the jail door, Peter knew what to do, go through it. We too need to go through doors God is opening. Don’t stand and gawk. Go.

In Acts, the early church tried at first to entrench, to develop a siege mentality, but God said no and sent persecution, forcing them to go (AC 8:1; 11:19). We in the USA are not being persecuted yet, but are experiencing an utter sense of failure with regard to reaching our nation. I believe this frustration is stirring us to advance, to risk leaving our comfort zone, to go forth from our safe church buildings out into an intimidating world.

This going forth to help the lost has always been the Church’s best task. Jesus went to the seacoast to help one desperate woman (MK 7:30). Philip went to the desert to find an Ethiopian eunuch (AC 8:26). Peter went to Caesarea to win a Roman centurion (AC 10:25). To whom will you and I go, and where? Our Master said lost sheep are scattered. Therefore we have to scatter to find them.

For us to be most effective in our going, we have to be precise in defining what we mean by it. Our master commanded us to go everywhere (AC 1:8). The danger we face is that the act of going, whatever its objective in and of itself, fulfills our responsibility. This is not true. Our goal is not to go everywhere, but rather to go to the lost everywhere. The place matters only as we seek to win prechristians in that place. The going that is mandated and essential is a going that targets the right audience, that seeks to engage the lost.

Often our going is for ministry, not missions. This is fine, but we must be sure to distinguish between the two. Ministry is not missions. Missions is not ministry. We must do both, and be precise in delineating the difference. “Hand to hand” help is good, may we ever do more and more of it, but let’s remember it is ministry. Going becomes missions when we use “mouth to ear” to verbally tell the world about Jesus. We have to tell as well as do, validating our missions message by our lips as well as by our lives.