Awhile back, I had left the parking lot of an area Lutheran church and noticed a sign at the exit of their parking lot – right before entering the main road. The sign read:
“You are now entering the mission field“
“Hhmm.. That is so simple and profound,” I thought to myself. I liked the message and wanted to have a sign made for my church. So, I did a little research and pondering on the subject. This is what I concluded.
While we our called to go out into the nations to make disciples (disciples vs. church members is a topic for another blog!), we often need to look inwardly – both at ourselves and our church. I don’t recall where I heard the following idea, but it says that there are 3 primary mission fields:
- Our heart
- Our church
- Our world
I think that’s the correct order, too. Let’s briefly unpack these 3 mission fields.
Mission Field 1: Our heart
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. –Proverbs 4:23
Our hearts are very important things. I’ve written about that before. Our actions, good or bad, come from what is stored up in our hearts. Naturally, we’re sinful (Romans 3:23). So, before we can go out into the World as a witness and example for Christ, we have to begin to rid ourselves of sin and get our hearts right(er). While we don’t need to wait to achieve perfection (because we know that’s not gonna happen) to talk with others about our faith, we need to be on track, ourselves, so that we can be good vessels of God’s grace. Be continually refined.
When God calls us to Himself, by the Holy Spirit, and we begin to follow Christ, by God’s grace, we begin a lifelong process of sanctification (2 Peter 1:3-4). We are a work in progress. Keyword: progress. We’re progressing towards something: being made more and more Christ-like in our hearts, minds, desires, and deeds (1 Corinthians 11:1)
But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. –2 Thessalonians 2:13
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. –2 Peter 1:5-8
I love verse 8:
For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive.
We’re not idle. While there is surely time for rest, solitude, and waiting on the Lord, we don’t want to indefinitely sit around and wait for sanctification to happen. Sanctification is an active process. We have a responsibility, too! We’re continually praying, studying, worshiping, and growing in our love and obedience in Jesus and God’s Word. We’re not going backwards. We’re not staying still. We’re moving towards Christs-likeness. We’re to be increasingly involved in our local church – so that we have a community of believers surrounding us, strengthening us, and pointing us to Christ. And we are to do the same for them! Hence, the ‘community’. We start reaching the lost and the world we live in – and thus – fulfill our role in the Great Commission and our call as Christians.
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. –Philippians 2:12-13
Mission Field 2: Our church
Now that, through the process of sanctification, we have our hearts and minds on the right path, what about the heartbeat of our church? As important as it is to send the local church members out into the world, locally and globally, it’s imperative that the church, itself, is a reflection of Christ – both for its witness to the watching world and for the quality of fruit being sent into the world. There can be such an emphasis on ‘outward missions’, programs, buildings, community outreach, and social justice that we neglect those within our pews. We can’t afford to do that. Those in the pews are the ones that needing pouring into so that they can go out!
It should never be assumed that those within the church have it all together. We don’t. We must never forget that the church is not just a place for life-long believers or believers who are solid in their faith. Everyone struggles. The church needs people who are solid in their faith (and needs to tend to them as well), but the church is THE place for sinners, doubters, skeptics, searchers, seekers, learners, and those very different from ourselves. There is a clear mission field within the walls of the local church that we should not neglect!
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. –Hebrews 10:24-25
There must be a balance of efforts between caring for the people already in the church while also reaching the lost outside of the church. I believe it’s the job of the local church to create strong, passionate, and mature disciples in the church to then send out into the world to build relationships and care for people, to share the message of Salvation, and to bring those people into the fold as the Holy Spirit directs.
1 Peter 5:2 charges elders (spiritual leaders in the church) to:
Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve.
I can’t help but have the saddening turmoil surrounding Mar’s Hill Church on my mind as I’m writing this. What an example of how things should not be in the Church. Lack of accountability, humbleness, transparency, and good leadership seem to have contributed to Mar’s Hill’s brewing tensions and fallout. Perhaps with such growth, so many programs and campuses, money, and power, the church, on a leadership level, lost sight of their mission. Mainstream media has been tracking this story and its watchers are now joining the conversation. This is not the example the church should be setting for the world. We are called to be different from the way the world operates. The Church, and especially it’s leadership/elders, should care deeply for its flock, and prayerfully work to prevent discord like this. The Bible has clear direction for resolving conflict. (Matthew 18:15-17; Ephesians 4:31-32) Because the church is made up of sinners, we know it can’t be perfect. But it should be better than this.
Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. –2 Corinthians 7:1
Mission Field 3: Our World
Eventually, we have to move beyond the walls of the church. A lot of times, Christians associate the ‘mission field’ or any reference of ‘missions’ to, well, Missionaries: those ‘super Christians’ who give their lives to the Lord’s work of spreading the Gospel to the un-reached people groups in Africa. There is, inherently, so much wrong with that view – but at a minimum, the “You are now entering the mission field” message disrupts the idea that the only people on mission are full-time Missionaries. It calls all Christians (and church members) to do the work of ‘Missionaries’ – wherever it is that they are going after they leave Church on Sunday afternoons. Full-time Missionaries are amazing people! But so are you! And even more, God is amazing – and can use everything for His purposes and glory.
The sign’s simplest purpose is to remind us all that your mission field is wherever God has placed you in this season of life: whether that’s in the business world, teaching at a school, at home with your kids, studying in school, or at home retired. There are an abundance of opportunities to share the Gospel message and show the love of Christ’s to others – exactly where you are. If you’re called to Zambia, go. If you’re called to Baltimore City, go. If you’re called to the water-cooler at your cubicle-farm of an office building, go. When someones soul is on the line, there is no more important place for you to be than right there with them – sharing the Truth that you believe. Your work is no less important whether you’re in suburbia or in the Congo.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” –Matthew 28:19-20
Our lives should be lived with Romans 1:16 always on our minds:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.