When I was a kid, TV and mail-order ads offered an option for C.O.D.– Collection (or “Cash”) on Delivery. In the past, one had to send in a check (or money order), and then wait for the product to be shipped. C.O.D. allowed the customer to call his order in, have it shipped without delay, and then pay for it upon receipt.
The Collection on Delivery option faded away years ago, mostly due to the widespread use of the credit card. Of course, companies had been losing lots of money in shipping to customers who, by the time the product arrived at their doorstep, either didn’t have the money or had changed their minds about the purchase altogether. The worst part of the C.O.D. was that it made mail carriers and delivery workers into collection agencies– something they weren’t designed to do.
The cost to follow Jesus is nothing less than everything. He makes this clear in Mark 8:34-35: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” But while Jesus requires everything of His followers, Paul clearly saw to it that as insofar as it depended on him, the message of the gospel should be free for all to hear: “What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.”
Are you charging people to hear the gospel?
By requiring people to enter your space, join your culture, translate your language, and overlook your hypocrisies in order to hear about the Savior, you’re charging them. Every cultural barrier is a C.O.D. for the recipient. A growing number of people know nothing about the contents of the message, but reject it for the cost of hearing it. Learning the language of the Christian subculture, opening their children up to indoctrination, sitting through hour-long sermons, identifying with hate-filled religious extremists. The price is too high.
It is the role of the missionary to reduce the cost to free.
Of course, once they taste and see that the Lord is good, people willingly exchange their lives for His righteousness. The transaction becomes a no-brainer; the cost seems like a steal. Our job is to lower the cost, to actively minimize the differences between us (followers of Jesus) and them (those who do not believe). Our role is to “pay the shipping” of gospel proclamation by translating the gospel into every tribe, language, subculture, and social enclave. We do this by making ourselves all things to all men that by all possible means we might save some. We do this by deliberately moving into redemptive relationships with those who don’t know Jesus.