“If everything is mission,” Stephen Neill famously said, “then nothing is mission.”
Except, for God’s people, everything really is mission.
I understand the sentiment. There are too many churches who repave their parking lots out of their “Missions” budgets and too few international missionaries making disciples among those who have not heard the gospel. But the answer to the problem of a huge number of Christians acting like bad missionaries is not to draw a more narrow definition.
The problem is one of discipleship. For too long now, churches have been content to make Almost Disciples. These are churched people who have responded in some way to the gospel, joined a church, and are now being fed information about God. An Almost Disciple is considered to be spiritually mature when his sin is less obvious and he’s taken on more responsibly at church. He tries to manage his family and his money well. He supports missions, ministries, and certain political issues. For many, this is Christianity in America.
“Real missionaries”– the ones who’ve left their homes and their families to join foreign cultures in order to be and make disciples of Jesus– resent “Almost Disciples” claims to be “missionaries.” Surely playing a round of golf with guys from work shouldn’t fall into the same category as sneaking into a hotel to teach persecuted new believers Jesus’ teaching about taking up one’s cross. Should it?
Mission isn’t defined by difficulty. It’s not determined by our sacrifice. Mission is God’s redemptive work among humanity, which brings glory to Him. As His called-out people, we are sent into all the world to be His ambassadors. This is our part on God’s mission. The specifics– the timing, the location, the position– these are up to God. He organizes His church on His mission.
It is unwise to try to draw a more narrow definition of mission, because, for God’s people, everything is mission. When we tell the church otherwise– that the “front lines” are over there and not here– we only encourage the sort of behavior we oppose. If you tell people they aren’t missionaries, don’t be surprised if they don’t act like missionaries.