By Henry Bishop
I just read a recent report of people’s identity with a church that over 50% of the population in our society are not actively connected with a church. Many of these are labeled under the “nones” of a religious survey. These are folks who choose not to affiliate with a local church.
Somehow the decline in church memberships says we have lost the passion and motivation for God’s Mission “to all nations”. Is this not a sign of God’s intervention into our world through natural disasters? The flood disaster last year in our state, the Charleston AME church event –a great witness to Christianity came out of these events though tragic in their impact on people’s lives.
So, now that I have opened up a can of worms, we as a Global Mission Synod are facing a new year, 2016, with a challenging question: Why in the world should we “do missions” in this day and age, when it becomes quite clear that Christianity does not solve the world’s problems? What about inclusivity, tolerance, and relativism?
And frankly don’t we have more than enough to do with “mission” right here at home? Why should every congregation care about Global Mission? There are several reasons but I want to share one reason which really provided the inspiration and foundation for our journey of missionary service in Malaysia and Singapore.
It is the Biblical Reason – it is in the Bible. Part of the problem seems to be our current use of the term “mission”. We church leaders have fallen into the trap of overusing this very specific word in the Christian context to cover everything from feeding the hungry (a necessary and very worthwhile enterprise) to building new church buildings for ourselves in the suburbs (worthwhile, perhaps, but at least questionable under the definition of “mission” in the biblical sense).
Our basic understanding of and motivation for mission comes, of course, from Matthew 28:18-20, a passage which I think should be learned by heart by every one of our Lutheran confirmands, and which certainly could stand as the Lord’s own “mission statement” for our churches
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Here in the same breath with which Jesus commands us to baptize and to teach obedience to God’s Word, our risen Lord also tells us that the context for all of this is “all nations”.
In the Greek, the words for all nations (panta ta ethne) actually translated more accurately as “all cultural groups”. In these accounts of the first missions of the church in Acts and the epistles, it is clear that the church was urged by the Spirit to continually cross its own Judaic and Greek cultural boundaries in order to speak the gospel in all places and to all peoples.
Actually it is only when we cross cultural boundaries, even “at home”, that we are fulfilling God’s mission. Chances are that the folks using the food pantry and those living in the upscale development both belong to cultural groups different from those most of us middle class are a part of.
And those teenagers apply makeup in the women’s room, these too, taken seriously are panta ta ethne-all cultures-and biblically speaking, a part of global mission.
Why should we care about Global mission”? Because God and God’s Word both do.
Our first encounter with an Asian culture
We lived in a suburban village of the capital city, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, just down the street from the mosque. At 4:30 each morning Carolyn and I were awakened to the tune of “Allahu Akbar..” We would groan and roll over and wonder when the muezzin would finish.
But then he would come to the part: Assalaatu khayru minin nawm–prayer is better than sleep! So much to say “Get up you lazy Lutherans!”
Then I recall how I think I’m doing well to squeeze in a few minutes each day for prayer and meditation. Muslims do it five times a day! No we don’t evangelize because we are more religious than they.
We do it simply because every man, woman, and child in this world has a right to know how much God has loved them and loves them in Jesus. They have a right to get to know the one who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and to have a chance to respond to the love God is so eager to shower upon them.
They have a right to get to know the Jesus who, because he gave himself unto death, has now been given the name at which every knee in heaven and on earth and under the earth shall bend. They have a right to come to the point where they too can boast in the hope of sharing the glory of God.
The church is continually challenged to remember and rehearse why the person of Jesus Christ is of infinite importance for every man, woman, and child in every culture and ethnic group of the world. He is risen from the dead and he is Lord! And that’s why we should care about global mission.
The experience of Christ’s church more fully realized through Global Mission
I remember years ago, there was an Ethiopian pastor invited to an ELCA Global Mission Event. He shared a story of the Ethiopian Lutheran Church which is the largest denomination there. He asked us how old the leadership of our church was and then proceeded to tell us how the leadership of the Ethiopian church comes mostly from the young people, especially teenagers.
“Perhaps”, he suggested gently, “Your American church would do well to look to the young people, too, because that is where God has granted a vision, and a passion for His Word”. This totally changed the way that I look at teenagers, and gets me excited about possibilities for renewal in the Lutheran church in the United States.
At Mt. Horeb (the parish where we attend), we hold a global missions worship emphasis. There is a visiting representative from our companion synods to share a global mission story. The cooks usually scramble to find something unique to cook. The choir will polish up some of the more exotic hymns from the With One Voice songbook. Children in Sunday School look at maps to find out exactly where our “Companion Synod” brothers and sisters in Christ might live.
It’s fun to see the horizons of our parish broadened by these experiences. The world really is larger than our shopping malls, schools, and jobs! We find ourselves experiencing a kinship with a group of people we had never met but with whom we are intimately related through the invisible blood ties of faith in Christ.
Author Bio: Bishop is a former overseas missionary in Malaysia and Singapore, presently chair of South Carolina Global Mission/Companion Synod Network.