Monday, February 09, 2009

    MISSION or EVANGELISM?


    I've been pondering lately how differently some of us in the youth ministry blogosphere think about the definition of "mission." I see blogs describing mission trips as opportunities to go out and preach the gospel and convert others to Christianity. Where I come from, we don't call that mission or outreach. We call it "evangelism." And I think it's fair to say that we in the progressive Christian sphere don't put near as much emphasis on "evangelism" as our more conservative brothers and sisters-- at least not the kind of evangelism that involves asking people "Are you saved?" and then explaining to them why they need to be. We tend more towards the St. Francis model: "Preach the gospel always. If necessary, use words." In other words, I'm more likely to want to show rather than tell people what a life lived centered in Christ looks like.

    Mission then looks more like Paul's desire to become servant to all --demonstrating the truth of Christ's teachings by feeding the homeless, caring for inner-city children, spending time with the elderly, building houses for Habitat for Humanity, growing a neighborhood garden, and so on. Mission and outreach involve the hands-on work of building the kingdom. I wonder, in the long run, if these sorts of efforts are actually much more effectively evangelistic than any Christian tract, bumper sticker, or street preacher ever will be.

    Let me be clear: I know that evangelicals also put a great deal of focus on hands-on mission work. I'm just interested in the different ways we think about these terms "mission" and "evangelism." Your thoughts? --Brian

    12 comments:

    mcdaniel clan said...

    i personally prefer to use the word "mission" as including both service and evangelism. both evangelism and serving are within the realm of our mission as God's people. i have to agree, i'm not a fan of talking about a "mission trip" that is primarily focused on evangelism. these trip often assume Jesus isn't already in these places. what up with that?

    Brian said...

    I can certainly see how the term might encompass both service and evagelism. There are times when serving another opens up a window for sharing about the gospel. I also agree the we too often assume that God isn't already in places and people we seek to evangelize.

    danny said...

    i can't separate the two ideas of mission and evangelism: both are necessary to proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior. having just started working at a church that only does service projects... it's not enough. it becomes a one week annual salve that convinces us that we abide by Christ's radical teaching. this also points to the fact that most Christians today don't understand what it's like to go somewhere that is nonChristian. visit any country in asia (except skorea), and the need to actually evangelize as part of missions becomes apparent. most of our teens can't articulate their own faith, and service projects don't change that. check christian smith's soul searching research.

    cawoodm said...

    I think Pauls mission was evangelism. That is, his purpose was to proclaim the good news that Jesus is Lord. His servitude and love of others was a natural product of his belief. If Jesus is Lord then I am a servant and if Jesus says love and serve others, I do it. To do otherwise would be to deny the very message he was preaching.

    This definition of the Gospel (Jesus is Lord) stands over against the conservative evangelical tradition which says the gospel is atonement and imputation but it sheds light on the rest of Paul's writings as well as being a true statement regardless of whether one believes it or not. The same cannot be said of the Gospel of atonement+imputation.

    Joel Mayward said...

    I'm with danny; mission and evangelism seem to be intertwined as the holistic proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus. When I say "holistic," I mean that the whole Gospel to the whole person to the whole world. It encompasses both action (serving) and words (evangelism), connecting to the emotional, physical, spiritual, and relational aspects of a person. I think that in any expression--action or verbal--the person is communicating something; mission comes in when the person is communicating the Gospel.

    So while I understand calling an event a "missions trip," I would lean towards communicating "mission" as an everyday lifestyle or mindset. Perhaps its all just language and wording issues, but I think those are important issues to talk about.

    jeremy zach said...

    I agree with Brian, Evangelism and mission(s) are independent of each other.

    evangelism- proclaim Jesus to others either through conversation, dance, music, etc..

    mission- do the teachings of Jesus so others will be blessed.

    Yes both, mission and evangelism can be done at the same time, but they each have a different function.

    Mike said...

    I don't think Christians use words to express their faith to others nearly enough. Serving is a mandatory and proper response to God's grace and mercy, but I believe it is used as a crutch, an excuse for not verbalizing the Gospel to others. How many people surrender to Christ because they see a Christian pick up trash? The Gospel is a message, and we are commanded to go and TELL the world, and how will the know unless they HEAR?

    Brian said...

    Thanks for your comments everyone. This discussion does highlight that there is great variation in the way that we define these words, depending on where you went to school or the church or denomination from which you come. I fully admit that youth in the progressive churches are pitifully unable to articulate their faith verbally. Where they seem to excel is the putting into action their understanding of justice, peace, compassion, and servanthood. Often, it is these "mission" experiences, more than any Bible study or lesson, that allows them to begin to articulate what it means for them to be a Christian.

    So, I don't see this as an either/or proposition as far as the importance of evangelism and mission. From my perspective, they are different, but complimentary.

    Claire said...

    So this has been up a while, but I'll still leave my thoughts:

    Like many who commented, mission is all encompassing for me. Moreover, it is who we are, what we are about. So sometimes we'll act, at other times we'll speak, or both, but always, our attitude should reflect the love of God in Christ Jesus. I hear Danny. Over the years I've seen churches that act and do good deeds, but there is nothing that leads people to the good news of what God has done in Christ and helps them to hear God's invitation. However, God calls us to participate in God's mission at whatever point in time, the key question is, are we faithful?

    Brian said...

    Claire, thanks for commenting. I definitely concur with the point that it can't just be about the hands-on work,otherwise how are we any different from the thousands of civic groups that do volunteer work in the community. We have good news to tell as reason for what motivates our mission.

    Caliber said...

    As a leader of short term missions for teens, adults, churches, and youth groups I must say that both service and evangelism are to be both under the the meaning of missions. We know that Christ's main purpose in his ministry was not to be served but to serve but we also know it was to seek and to save that which was lost. I could talk on this topic all day but it bothers me when people abide by the St. Francis model: "Preach the gospel always. If necessary, use words." If this model were true how are we too fulfill the Great commission which God calls us to fulfill? To go and preach the Good News of Jesus Christ to all. And use the most important word of all the Bible as a tool to do so. If you look at the heart beat of God (His passion) it was his love for people (John 3:16) And that love is reflected in and through Jesus. We know that Christ had compassion the the people and asked his disciples to pray because the harvest was great but the workers were few. Was he talking about service workers or those who go and speak the truth of what Christ had done for us on the Cross. I am not putting down service however we must not forget that as Christians we are called to do 2 things Love God and obey his commandments and the last command that Christ gave before his ascension was Go and make disciples not go and build a house or make clean water. Christ then said all authority has been given to me to tell you this! Meaning God had given Christ the power to command us to take over what he had started spreading the news about Jesus and his death and Resurrection. I do believe that you can Go and fulfill the great commission the mission God has bestowed upon us through service. Just if one would separate the two whats the point of doing it. Sorry I typed this really fast so hopefully it makes sense. God bless all of you and your ministry serving our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ Continue to serve him to your fullest

    Caliber said...

    P.S. Know that my last comment was out of love and passion. I hate typing sometimes because proper emotions are never fully communicated. I do tend to get passionate which comes across garish.

    Thanks