Christians – especially those who are distinctly evangelical – have always been activists. In fact, according to the church historian David Bebbington, one of the 4 defining hallmarks of evangelical Christianity is ‘activism’ (the belief that the Christian gospel must be expressed in word and in action). Evangelicals, he wrote, have “An eagerness to be up and doing!” As a result our churches are busy, with kids clubs, poverty relief schemes, evangelistic initiatives, housegroups, services in care homes, prayer meetings, youth getherings, cafe’s meetings for older people – and more. It’s why people from evangelical churches have headed out from these shores all over the world in mission; and why we now receive missionaries into this country from countries as diverse as India, Brazil and Australia.
But what drives all this activity?
The Apostle Paul was clear about his motivation for his intentional ministry of preaching, church-planting, letter-writing and missionary-journeying that he undertook in the middle of the first Century. Early in his ministry he wrote about his determination to persuade others to trust in Christ, saying “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (1Cor5:14-15). The revolution of love that had changed Paul’s heart meant that he was so captivated by the grace and love of God in Christ for him, that he was compelled to share it with others. What started on the Road to Damascus, took Paul all over the Greco-Roman world. Today, we evangelicals are busy people.
Why do mission?
So, why do you do mission? Why do I? Is it out of duty or habit – or just the done thing in your church circles? Of course, mission can be undertaken in a murky attempt to use the gospel to promote oneself, build a platform or grow a career-ministry. So – why do you do mission? Is it driven by a genuine desire that people outside of Christ can experience what you have found in him? My experience is that when I have tried to share the gospel from a place of pride, duty, guilt, or with my eyes on myself – it has been a car-crash. It’s been toxic to me and unhelpful to anyone I have spoken to.
We so often (rightly!) emphasise the importance of prayer in evangelism. We know that without God’s help we are powerless and fruitless – and so we pray for success as we proclaim and defend the gospel. Don’t we also need to pray that our hearts would be aligned with His as we go out – and that we really are filled with God’s love for the lost? After all, if I can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge and have a faith that moves mountains is but have no love.. I am nothing. 1 Cor 13 is too often restricted to weddings – perhaps we should read it in mission too – and pray that our hearts are changed.
True mission, which is pleasing to God – and fruitful – is mission which is not done for ourselves, but done for God and others. It is the expression of the gospel of grace that makes us other-centred, and Christlike, and enables us to speak the gospel of grace with authenticity. I knew a man who had done outreach for one of the sub-Christian sects that sees salvation as being achieved by works – especially door to door evangelism. He said, “The problem was, I did that work ultimately for me, to earn my spot in heaven. The people I reached out to really only were means to my ends. I was using them for my salvation, what I ultimately cared about was me”. This is the exact opposite of what it means to be bearers of the gospel of grace, compelled by the love of Christ!
The Psalms tell us something further about the second great motivation for mission.
Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations, his marvellous deeds among all peoples.
For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendour and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary.
Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come into his courts.
Worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.
Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.”
This great missionary psalm begins with such an exalted and lofty view of the glory (the sheer significance) of God- that the Psalmist is driven to declare it to the ends of the earth! The majesty, glory, power, love and mercy of God – who loved the world so much that he sent His one and only Son- is the most important thing to know. It is wrong, that this world does not know, honour or obey God – and we must proclaim the gospel to correct that wrong; declaring the glory of God to all people.
Someone who understood this, is the contemporary Christian songwriter Matt Redman. He has (perhaps more than most), grasped that before becoming activists, evangelists or missionaries – we must first be worshippers. He wrote these arresting lyrics:
Let worship be the fuel for mission’s flame
We’re going with a passion for Your name
We’re going for we care about Your praise
Send us out!
The truth is that if we rush into activism before we are worshippers of God and are filled with His love for the lost – things fall apart. My Solas colleague Gareth Black lamented the public fall of a prominent preacher saying, “We must never get to the point where our character is playing catch-up with our calling”. And where is our character – especially our love for God and others – formed? It is formed as we encounter God, when we sense His presence, love, grace, forgiveness and holiness. It is on our knees that we align our heads, our hearts and our hands – our intellect, emotions and actions. It is as true today as it was in Acts, when Luke tells us of the first Christians that “the place where they met to pray was shaken, they were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly”. Jesus met with them first- and then sent them out. He changed them first before sending them out to change the world. Do we put the cart before the horse, and rush out to speak, before we have first worshipped? Do we open our mouths for God, before we have truly opened our hearts to God? What is the antidote to our failing here? This: Let worship be the fuel for mission’s flame.
The miracle of the gospel of grace is that it turns us inside out. Jesus meets our most profound needs and sends us compelled by his love for others, secure in Him to serve the lost; and gives us a vision of Himself so glorious that we cannot be silent until all the world has heard about this God. Before we are evangelists, we first must be worshippers of God who love the lost like he does.
I leave the last word to Matt Redman: