Welcome to Missions On Point, the Propempo perspective on Church and Missions. Hi, welcome to Missions on Point. This is episode number 10. We're gonna start a two part series talking about the biblical definition of missions. In this episode, I'm going to address some things that missions is not some inadequate or incorrect definitions of missions and what difference it makes for sure. There's a lot out there that is not biblical or correct. With regard to defining what missions is in typical fashion, I want to clear the deck and maybe blow your mind about what missions is not or some incorrect improper definitions of missions.
Two things you need to grab hold of right away. Number one, missions is not expressly in the Bible. The term missions comes from a Latin word that came after the Bible. It means to send out or to be sent. We'll talk about the implications of that. The second thing is something I dealt with in an earlier episode. You'll have to go back and listen to an earlier episode about the difference between mission without the S and missions with the S. That is a very significant and important distinction, and you need to understand what we're dealing with in this. And the next episode is missions with the S. Walk with me through this because if you don't understand the distinctions, it's easy to get confused by the volume of incorrect thinking.
One of the problems we have is that the term mission or missions is often confused by Christians, but especially by secular sources. So when you go to look up the definition of missions, you typically get the singular word mission. We dealt with the nuances of what that means for us in terms of ministry. When you go to look up a definition of missions, typically you're gonna find a definition of mission.
Let's start with some of the secular sources and then move to some Christian sources. Miriam Webster defines missions as, or mission rather as a specific task with which a person or group is charged, as in their mission was to help the victims of disaster. It can be a calling or vocation. It can be a body of persons sent to perform a service or carry on an activity. It can be a ministry commissioned by a religious organization to propagate its faith or carry on humanitarian work. It can be the act or the instance of sending as a verb. It generally means to send on or entrust with a particular mission. Secondly, it can be to carry on a religious mission among some target people or place. Google defines mission in these two ways. It's an important assignment carried out for political, religious, or commercial purposes, typically involving travel or secondly, the vocation or calling of a religious organization, especially a Christian one to go out into the world and spread its faith.
The online etymology dictionary says that the root of mission or by connection missions is a sending abroad. It's an act of sending or dispatching a release or setting at liberty by use from several centuries. It's an organized effort for the spread of religion or for the enlightenment of a community. In a diplomatic sense, it's a body of persons sent to a foreign land on commercial or political business. The Britanica Online encyclopedia takes a simpler, and I wanna say more old fashioned view of mission in Christianity is an organized effort for the propagation of the Christian faith. I like what vocabulary.com says. It says, A mission is a special quest, one that involves more effort than say, a trip to the corner store. Mission comes from a Latin word that means to send. It was first used by Jesuit missionaries who sent members of their order overseas to establish schools and churches.
Foreign travel is still associated with the word when diplomats and humanitarian workers travel abroad. We often refer to those trips as missions. Vocabulary.com goes on to say, mission is first an operation that is assigned by a higher headquarters or a special assignment that is given to a person or group, or a group of representatives or delegates, or an organization of missionaries in a foreign land sent to carry on religious work or the organized work of a religious missionary. Here's what Wikipedia says specifically about Christian mission. A Christian mission is an organized effort to spread Christianity to new converts missions involves sending individuals and groups called missionaries across boundaries, most commonly geographical boundaries to carry on evangelism or other activities such as educational or hospital work. Sometimes individuals are sent and are called missionaries. When groups are sent, they're often called mission teams and they do mission trips.
Kinds of Mission Trips
There are different kinds of mission trips, short term, long term relational, and those that simply help people in need. Some people choose to dedicate their whole lives to mission. Missionaries have the authority to preach the Christian faith and sometimes to administer sacraments and provide humanitarian aid. All these definitions from secular sources have certain things in common. They are generally thought to have a religious tone to them because of their longstanding use. Here's what we observe even from the secular definitions. The root word of missions or related term mission or missionary means to send. It involves having a sending authority or sending body. It involves having sent ones, particular ones that are sent. It involves special training or qualifications. It has an implication of crossing cultural or geographic boundaries. There is a special purpose or charge for those on missions, and it implies that there are specific intended results.
Let's move on to some Christian definitions. This one comes from got questions.org that answers thousands of questions. They say in a biblical fashion, they're evangelical conservative, but here's the question they answer. What is Christian missions? Christian missions is following Christ's call, sharing the gospel with the lost world through God's wisdom and strength. I have to say that's a definition that falls far short of biblical and even true to the term missions. For our purposes, it happens to be a good illustration of how a definition of missions can be incorrect or incomplete.
Here are some definitions from churches, one from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
"Missions is all endeavors in response to Christ's great commission, which take place outside the local church program of our church are considered missions. Cross-cultural workers are full-time Christian workers supported by our church, who work among peoples of different culture than ours, either within our own nation or abroad. Cross-cultural does not include administrative and support personnel located in USA home offices.
Here's another one from Birmingham, Alabama
"World Missions at our church shall be defined as any ministry aimed outside the continental United States, or a cross-cultural ministry within the continental United States. The purpose of which is to fulfill the great commission by proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ through evangelism, discipling, church planting, church development, and training slash equipping of Christian leadership. We recognize the importance of meeting physical needs while carrying on any of these ministries in accordance with Christ's great commandment.
Here's a third one from Akron, Ohio.
"Missions are any endeavor aimed toward the goal of reaching beyond the needs of the local congregation for the purpose of fulfilling the great commission by proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ, making disciples and relating to the whole need of mankind, both spiritual and physical."
Here's one from East Lansing, Michigan.
"Our church affirms the definition of missions as any endeavor outside its local congregation to fulfill the great commission of Christ, making disciples and relating to the whole need of mankind, spiritual and physical."
Here's another one from Dallas, Texas.
"The sending out and supporting of equipped disciple makers who cross barriers of distance, culture, and language in order to establish and strengthen the church in places beyond the normal sphere of influence of our members, both within and outside the usa.
Here's one more from San Jose, California
"to present the Lordship of Christ to the world through his power by means of any ministry extending beyond the congregation and the church facilities. This will cover a wide range of missionary activity, including evangelization, discipling, planting, churches, and aiding in their growth and development both overseas and in the United States.
Here's a more generic one that's sort of a combination of many, but includes some of the key elements.
"Missions is the sending out of specially equipped disciple makers who cross barriers of distance, culture, and language in order to establish and strengthen the church in places beyond the normal sphere of influence of our members."
There is a significant evangelical church association that has this definition,
"any cross-cultural endeavor outside of your local congregation, to obey the great commission by proclaiming the gospel of Christ, making disciples, and gathering those disciples into local churches."
The Baker Bible dictionary says this,
"the basic definition mission is the divine activity of sending intermediaries, whether supernatural or human to speak or do God's will so that his purposes for judgment or redemption are furthered. It involves that words and verbs used in Hebrew and Greek for send or to send the biblical concept of mission. They say comprehends the authority of the one who sends the obedience of the one sent the task to be accomplished, the power to accomplish the task and the purpose within the moral framework of God's covenantal working of judgment or redemption.
Now, having reviewed all these definitions, what does that mean? If we're looking for a biblical definition of missions, we need to focus on those key elements that ought to be included in the definition, and I want to refer in this last instance to an article by Kevin DeYoung called The Goal of Missions in the work of Missionaries. It kind of comes from a book by Kevin Young and Greg Gilbert. What is the mission of the church? It's important to understand that so many people and organizations out there would like to expand or limit the definition of missions in unbiblical sorts of ways. For some people, missions means nothing but evangelism, while others that are way more broadly based and not adhering to biblical doctrine at all would say it includes everything including creation, care and agricultural development and all kinds of medical care and digging wells and orphan work.
The End and the Means
As the end of missions to often we mix up the ends with the means that is what should be the proper biblical ends defined in our definition of missions, and what are the means to accomplish that? DeYoung is quick to point out that even though the term missions, which comes from Latin, couldn't be in the New Testament, the Greek word that it corresponds to is related to Apostle, and it is used 97 times in the Gospels for both Jesus and for those being sent out by God. He's gonna make a case that Acts 14 presents Paul's vision for missions in three key areas.
- One is new converts. Yes, there is evangelism and discipleship.
- Secondly, new communities. That is pulling people together in an organized fashion as a local church body and nurtured churches, meaning they're strengthened and encouraged for them to continue on this cycle of progress, making new converts, establishing new communities.
- So what do missionaries do? They preach the gospel to those who haven't heard. They disciple new believers and they strengthen them. In Christian faith and doctrine. They establish those disciples into healthy churches with sound teaching and good leaders. In the next episode, I wanna zero in on what would be a proposed biblical definition of missions using all of these elements and pulling them together.
Hey, thanks for joining us today on Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. We trust that you'll find more resources and help on the website, propempo.com.
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