Me. A Missionary? No Way!!
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
For this message, I am heavily indebted to Elton Trueblood’s helpful book, “The Validity of the Christian Mission”.
Acts 8:30-31 (Holman) When Philip ran up to it (the chariot), he heard him (the Ethiopian Eunuch) reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” “How can I,” he said, “unless someone guides me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
Philip was one of the original seven deacons (Acts 6:5), and had four daughters who were preachers (Acts 21:9). He is best remembered for the story told in our text. He had been leading a great revival in Samaria when God suddenly and unexpectedly called him to go intervene in the life of an influential Ethiopian Eunuch. Some often-seen elements of mission are here.
One, miracles. In Matthew 28:18, the Great Commission is set in the context of prayerful authority. We at Second have seen the power of “therefore” praying (MT 28:19a). I am currently praying for a miracle I want to see happen in the area of reaching unbelievers. I am not a prayer warrior, nor do I have the spiritual gift of faith, but I do believe in “therefore” praying, in asking God to do in our outreach efforts what only He can do.
That’s what we see in the story in our text. Only the Lord would tell someone to leave a great revival to go find one man in a chariot on a desert road. God often works miracles to woo the lost. John Osteen and several of his church members were one day riding through African bush country. The bus suddenly died, and refused to start again. At this moment, a man came walking across a field toward them. He stepped on the bus and asked if they could come tell his village about Jesus. Osteen immediately said to the bus driver, “Start the bus.” It cranked instantly. They went to the man’s village.
Two, conversions. Upon first hearing the Gospel, not everyone believes, but some do. Notice what God provided for the eunuch: not only a written text, but also someone to explain it. Unbelievers, to become believers, usually require personalized explanations from the Bible.
Our primary aim in dealing with the lost is not earthly, political, cultural, or social improvement. The main goal is salvation, rescue from Hell. Other matters are ancillary. Winning souls is the best way to improve lives and societies. Wesley, who said our only task was to win souls, said the Gospel brings people redemption and lift, salvation and social improvement.
Three, impartiality. By definition, the Gospel is cross-cultural. Jesus died for all, thus salvation is for all. Seed sowing must be indiscriminate: racially unbiased, ethnically impartial, and color blind. Our text teaches this.
To Israelites, castrated men were forbidden to attend public worship, and Ethiopia was for all intents and purposes the farthest away dregs of the earth, the southernmost edge of civilization, as Spain was the westernmost. If salvation could be made available for an Ethiopian Eunuch, it was for all.
Philip felt an urgency to go on a short-term mission trip, and ended up sending the Gospel to the ends of the Earth. This was not always the case in early days of Christianity. We were hindered at first by an obsession with Jerusalem. Maybe believers thought God would bring the world to them. For some reason they stayed put until persecution drove them out (AC 8:1).
The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD made even more necessary the need to go. Our faith has ever since never had a sacred building, a sacred city, or a favored ethnic center. Everything changed. Christianity became a nonlocal, non-tribal, non-ethnic religion meant for every person everywhere.
Four, lay-led. Philip was not a clergyman. He was a layman, a deacon. There aren’t enough preachers and missionaries to make a dent in this world.
Outreach success hinges on everyone being involved. For 1000 years, people’s money, abilities, prayers, and preaching passed through churches with essentially nothing going to, and no one going on, mission. This thousand years was costly. To reach one billion followers, it took Facebook 10 years; it took Christianity 2000 years. We are playing catch-up.
It’s time for all hands on deck. Prayerfully ponder this question. Do you think you, as a layperson, are as obligated to tell the Gospel as I, your Pastor, am? Am I more responsible than you are to make Jesus famous? Your answer makes all the difference in the world. We need to return to obeying Bible requirements regarding the mission obligations of laypeople.
The history of Christian missions is one of the most astonishing phenomenons in human history. From an isolated corner of the Roman Empire, a movement started that reached to the farthest corners of the Earth.
Its success was due not only to the Twelve or to Paul and Barnabas or to other leaders. It spread because it flew on networks established by lay people, who considered themselves as much on mission as ministers were.
Professor Kenneth Latourette’s history of the Christian faith is one of history’s greatest works. Of its seven volumes, three are dedicated to the 19th century, the mission century, what he called “the Great Century”.
The mission success of the 1800s was made possible by voluntary involvement of lay people in active missions and in their wholehearted support of mission efforts. People in the pews considered themselves on mission: no debates, no discussions. Everyone was in. At Second we have a 95-year-old stained glass window that honors the Women’s Mission Circle.
D. T. Niles said, “In order to be a Christian one has to partake in mission.” Let me expand this. To be a church, it has to be on mission. God does not have churches in need of a mission. He has a mission in need of churches. Missions is not to be a discipline off to itself. We do not have this department and that department isolated from a missions department. The latter exists to remind us all departments in our church are to be on mission.
Mission is our life. “The Church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning. Where there is no mission, there is no church” (Emil Bruner).
Do not underestimate the importance of this. At stake here is not the future of some mission agency, but our whole cause as a church. It affects who we are, how we understand ourselves, and how we interpret our role.
You may be asking, “Are you saying we all should be fulltime career missionaries?” No. Isn’t it interesting that the first thing we think of when we discuss missions is geography, doing something somewhere else?
I wish we as a church could return to the understanding that missions is at the outset not something we do, but who we are. All believers are to be missionaries wherever they are. Missions is about the heart, not geography.
Since missions is a matter of the heart, location and other externals are not necessary to make us a missionary. A missionary is one whose heart has been changed by God, whose reconciliation with God puts him or her in a position to make it possible to lead others to reconciliation. God gave us the ministry of reconciliation (2 C 5:18) at work, home, play, wherever we are.
I close with an illustration. We agree that the best evangelists and soul winners in any given area are people indigenous to that area. The Chinese best reach other Chinese. Marines best reach Marines. Oaxacans best reach Oaxacans. Now ponder this. What about where you work, live, or play? Who would be better at sharing the Gospel there, an insider like you or an outsider like me? What about your neighbors? Would an insider or outsider have a better chance with them? For the Gospel to run forward its fastest and farthest, each of us must deem ourselves a missionary wherever we are.