Have you ever considered yourself to be a missionary? Have you considered entering a different culture, developing relationships with the people, and sharing God’s love by serving and working with the people?
Whether you have considered it for yourself or not, you know people who have been called and gifted by God to share the good news of God’s love by learning the traditions and activities of the culture and by developing relationships of trust and compassion.
They have been trained to be cross-cultural workers, immersed in a culture different than their own, to discover and understand the needs and assets of the people they are called to love and serve.
Are You A Missionary?
There is a need for people to respond to God’s call by leaving the known and entering the unknown. There is a need to cross the cultural barriers, motivated by God’s love, to love and serve people in the name of Jesus. With that said, have you ever considered yourself to be a missionary? As you reflect upon the question, let me offer a perspective to consider.
The early followers of Jesus found their identity in his mission. They understood themselves as evidence of the resurrection and that they became part of the loving, healing, feeding, serving, and dying of the Risen Christ. They engaged the world and witnessed to the work of Jesus in the midst of a hostile environment. In the midst of the tension, they did not withdraw from the world or forsake the mission.
Baptism as Calling and Commissioning
Baptism was a powerful symbol of new life in Christ. It symbolized death to things of the world and new birth into the way of Jesus. Through baptism, Jesus followers knew they had been called and commissioned by Jesus to carry out his loving service. They understood the mission field to be where they were at the time. So, they lived out their call in the places they lived and worked. They were driven to ask “Who are we in relationship to those around us? To whom are we sent?” It was out of their experience with Jesus and developing relationships that their understanding of mission emerged.
They put their lives on the line for Jesus as they witnessed to God’s love across boundaries of race, nationality, and economics. They were missionaries just by being followers of Jesus.
Sharing the Good News of God’s Love
Then, during the age of Christendom, when all institutions of the culture were Christianized, the mission field shifted. It moved from wherever you were at the time to areas outside the boundaries of the empire or country. To be a missionary during Christendom meant that you entered a culture different than your own, developed relationships with the people, and shared God’s love by serving and working with the people.
You shared the good news of God’s love by learning the traditions and activities of the culture and by developing relationships of trust and compassion. You became a cross-cultural worker, immersed in a culture different from your own, who worked to discover and understand the needs and assets of the people you were assigned to love and serve.
The Mission Field is Outside Your Door
That brings us to today. The missionary spirit is in our DNA as a follower of Jesus. But we are living with a Christendom mindset. So, what does that mean?
It means we are in the midst of another shift. Although most of us believe we live in a Christian culture, we can no longer assume everyone is Christian or assume that the community is part of the church. A new way of living out the mission is emerging. The mission field is, once again, just outside the front door.
The reality is wherever you are, you have the opportunity to enter a new community, to learn the traditions and activities of the people, and to develop relationships of trust and compassion. In the truest sense, wherever you are, you are a missionary of the love of God.
Love Like Jesus
The foundation of being a missionary is Jesus. The greatest distinguishing characteristic of Jesus is love. So, your work as a missionary is to love like Jesus in the places you interact with people on a daily basis.
To love like Jesus means to focus on people and develop communities of care and compassion. It is a love that defines God’s immeasurable, incomparable love for all people. It is God’s ongoing, outgoing, self-sacrificing interest and concern for creation. God loves you, me, humanity, and all creation without condition. To love like Jesus is the work of the Christ-centered missionary.
Love Lived Out in Relationship with Others
To put it another way, this love is not dependent upon the worth of the people being loved. Love does not count the cost based on the return. It is spontaneous and does not consider beforehand whether it will be effective or proper. This love is the extension of God’s love lived out in and through our relationships with each other.
So, to love like Jesus means to live the highest form of love described and experienced in the Bible. It is more than an emotion. It is a matter of will.
As much as we talk about the church being a family, this love is greater than friends and family. In fact, this love is greater than race, color, or belief. It is a love that intentionally works for the good of each individual regardless of who they are or whether you feel anything or not. This love is greater than politics, nationality, gender, and race. To be a Christ-centered missionary means you live by and serve with love greater than yourself.
Be a Missionary of Love
To love like Jesus is to understand that love is the greatest expression of relationships. As a missionary of love, you are working for the good of all people. Relationships, and not agreement, are the issue. As a Christ-centered missionary, you love as you have been loved and you courageously serve the community with that same love.
To love like Jesus is to express your love through action. Too often we talk about love and loving others but are slow to live the love we talk about. John, in his first letter wrote, “Those who say, ‘I love God’ and hate their brothers or sisters are liars. After all, those who don’t love their brothers or sisters whom they have seen can hardly love God whom they have not seen! This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also” (I John 4:19-21).
Be Focused on the Good of Others
To love like Jesus is to be focused on the good of others before it is focused on our own good, desires, expectations, or results. As a Christ-centered missionary, you love because God in Christ first loved you.
Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” This love is about being who God created you to be for no other reason than being who God created you to be. Who you are is how you love.
Love the People in Your Community
As a Christ-centered missionary, you love the people in the community where you are at this moment. So, it is important to know your context, your community, the people to whom you are sent (or are sent to you). You love like Jesus so you can fall in love with your community. So, try experimenting with the following:
- Take a walk through your community or neighborhood. (This might happen a little differently in some areas. In more rural communities, you might need to drive by your neighbors). Organize a group of people in your church to walk together in twos or threes.
- Pray for each family in the homes as you walk by. Ask God to help you be the neighbor God needs you to be for them. Pray for their well-being. Ask God to love them through you. Pray for each business, service, hotel, etc. that you pass by. Ask God to love the people you meet through you.
- Engage the people you meet along the way in conversation. Ask them, “What do you like about our community or our neighborhood?” “If anything, what would you like to see changed?” As you reflect upon your conversations, think about how you and/or the church can come alongside the people in the community?
- Take note of the different agencies and services in your community. Are there schools? Libraries? Police stations? Fire stations? Extended care facilities? What other assets can you identify? Medical clinics? Social agencies? Begin to engage your church in prayer. Pray, “Oh God, help us see you in the people in our community. What do we need to do that no one else is doing?”
- In your conversations, listen to the needs in your community. Is there a need for food? Housing? Childcare? Community park activities? Health care? Pray, “Oh God, send us the people that no one else wants and help us love the people you send to us.”
- Identify the individuals in your congregation who can assist in making connections in the community. Who are the leaders in the community? Who are school teachers or administrators? Who has influence among the people? Now, pray for each of them. Ask God to prepare them for the mission of loving the community as God has loved them. At the appropriate time, ask them to assist you in relating to the community.
- Identify other churches you might ask to be a partner with you in developing relationships and providing resources. Give God thanks for the opportunity to be a conduit of God’s love to the community.
So, as a Christ-centered missionary, you love like Jesus, and you love the people in your community. The question is, “do you need special training to love?
The answer is no. You love people and your community as God in Jesus has loved you.
Jesus Loves You
Tony Campolo tells the story of being a counselor at a junior high camp early in his ministry. He said junior-high boys have a strange and often cruel sense of humor. There is a strong tendency to pick on anyone who is different, to make fun of them, and make them the brunt of their jokes.
He said this was the case during one particular week of summer camp. The boys picked on a thirteen-year-old boy named Billy who had difficulty walking and talking. He had cerebral palsy.
The boys at the camp would often mimic his gestures. They thought it was funny to imitate his halting movements and his slurred speech. Their actions were cruel at best, but the cruelest thing they did was on Thursday morning of the camp.
On that day, Billy’s cabin had been assigned to lead the morning devotions. They voted for Billy to be the speaker. They wanted to get him up and in front of everybody so they could be entertained by his struggling attempts at speaking.
Surprisingly, it did not bother Billy. When the time came for the devotion, he dragged himself up to the front of the room. Except for the snickering of the boys from his cabin, everyone was quiet and attentive.
Campolo said, It took Billy almost30 seconds to say, ‘Jesus…loves…me…and…I…love…Jesus.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus…loves…you…too.’”
Campolo said, “When he finished, there was stunned silence. When I looked over my shoulder, I saw that all over the place there were junior-high boys with tears streaming down their cheeks. Some of them had their heads bowed.”
He said, “We had done many things that week to try to reach the boys with the gospel message, but nothing had worked. We had even brought in baseball players whose battering averages had gone up since they started praying, but it had no effect on the boys. It wasn’t until Billy, with his slurred speech, declared his love for Jesus that everything changed.”
It was years later, while traveling, that Campolo met a young man who said, “You probably don’t remember me. I became a Christian at a junior high camp where you were a counselor.” Before the conversation was over the man said, “Jesus reached out and spoke to me through Billy.”
Friends, God doesn’t need superstars or trained witnesses. As it says in the scripture, God likes to take “the stones which the builders reject” to use as the foundation rock for loving all of creation.
Are You a Missionary?
Have you ever considered yourself to be a missionary? When you leave your home, your work or your church building, you are entering the mission field where people need a kind, caring, encouraging word. God has already loved you through his Word made flesh in Jesus. The joy and peace of this life come through sharing what you have received.
When you enter your community, you have the opportunity to develop new relationships and to share the joy and peace you have received in the name of the living God who loves you in Jesus and who empowers you to share God’s love through the Holy Spirit.
Whether you have considered being a missionary or not, you are a missionary just by following Jesus. Today, love like Jesus and love your community. Be the missionary you have been called and gifted to be right where you are at this moment. And remember, who you are is how you lead.