The Missionary Task
A Confused Task
If we are not careful we can confuse the task of missions and water it down with a thousand good things! Yes, I said good things! Sometimes it is not the pure evil that slows gospel preaching and progress, sometimes it is good things that are not gospel things.
Missionaries are involved in many activities, some of them are very good and needed tasks and some of them not so much
- Feeding the poor
- Providing free medical care
- Building churches
- Building schools
- Building orphanages
- Building hospitals
- Flying airplanes
- Providing education
- Coaching soccer and many other sports
- Giving shelter
- Digging wells
None of these things are bad, all of these things have a level of necessity but none of them really are core the main task that God has called us to do. The danger is when we lose focus of that main task and one of these secondary tasks takes over!
Although Isaiah doesn’t demand details before committing to the missions call go, God does not leave him without instruction on his task.
And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” Isa 6:9-10
God responds to Isaiah giving him some details about the task before him. Let’s break that task down into its primary parts. Very simply we can see three aspects to the missions task: going, telling, and persevering.
1. We Must Go
Before God instructs Isaiah on what he should say or how he should say it, he tells him “Go.” While certainly missions is much more than simply traveling, we also must not overlook this vital aspect of the missions call.
A lifeguard who remains on shore
- may call out to those he sees in danger,
- he may warn others,
- he may educate those who are already on the shore
but he will not save any until he enters the waters himself,
- until he takes the uncomfortable risk of diving into those dark waters. If he wants to save lives he must leave the beach and enter the waters!
God told Abraham to go, he was not only a patriarch but also a prophet (Genesis 20:7), God told him to “go” from his own country and from his own culture to a place where God would show him (Genesis 12:1). As we see often in Scripture, the act of going is a significant expression of faith in the One who is sending.
In Abraham’s case going out from his homeland was not only uncomfortable, it was dangerous. Abraham would need to move his entire family with all their flocks, herds, servants, and tents. Beyond the regular risk of traveling across open wilderness, being attacked by wild animals, or running out of basic supplies, there was the risk of other nations through whose land they must travel. Abraham already had some wealth and as his clan moved across the land the locals would view him as a risk to their safety.
When Abraham left his homeland he made a bold and shocking statement, it was a public declaration of his faith in Yahweh, who would protect him and provide for him as he went out, it was also a rejection of his family’s pagan religion. The called missionary must make a similar step of faith.
*Unique to the missions call is the aspect of going, not all are required to go to far off lands but all missionaries are required to go somewhere!
Let’s look at the first missionaries in Acts:
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. Act 13:2-4
Notice in the above brief description how many times it refers to the “going” aspect of missions. It says the people “let them go,” they were “sent out by the Holy Spirit,” and they “went down.” Why is going a vital aspect of the missions call? Certainly going is a strong statement of the missionary’s faith in the One who is sending him, yet there is more to it than just that.
Why can’t we just use technology?
Even with the advance of technology, with the ability to record video, publish blog posts, or produce podcasts, God still wants people to represent him personally. We can and should use all available technologies to communicate the gospel, but we must never be content with that alone!
- We called to make disciples and we can not do that through technology alone.
- We are called to be ambassadors. That means personal representation.
- Part of the preaching of the gospel includes ministering to the needs of others.
- The only way to really learn the culture, language, and problems of those you are sharing the gospel with is to go to them.
- God came!
God Himself communicated with us through written word, He used prophets as communicators of His message, yet when it came down to it, when the most important truths had to be communicated He did it personally, He sent His one and only Son as Word incarnate.
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. Joh 1:9-11
Jesus came as the ultimate missionary; He went from the presence of the Father to the humble life of a servant (Philippians 2:5-8). We go as ambassadors of God (2 Corinthians 5:20) seeking the lost and the broken and personally communicating the message of hope to them.
In order to understand properly the missionary call you must not overlook the “going” of the missionary. It is impossible for a missionary not to go in some sense of the word. Some will travel to the other side of the globe, while others will find their “going” much nearer. Isaiah, for example, was told to go to the people of Judah. This meant that Isaiah would stay within the borders of his own country. However, he still needed to “go.”
2. We Must Tell
You may have heard the popular saying, “Preach the Gospel, use words if necessary.” This is not from the Bible and it is not Biblical. It would be like saying “Feed the hungry, use food if necessary.”
While “going” is usually the missionary’s first task, it is not his primary task. Going is simply a necessary step to take before we can began the task of telling. Paul shows us how going and telling work together to accomplish God’s purposes.
…How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Rom 10:13-15
True faith and heart change can only happen as a result of the “preaching” or “telling” of the Good News! Friend, do not let your heart forget the central assignment of every missionary,
- We are sent to deliver truth and hope to a dying world.
- We are at our core storytellers, news proclaimers, truth communicators.
- Above all the missionary must concern himself with the communication of God’s revelation.
- Words of truth, salvation, and faith must flow fearlessly, flawlessly and frequently from the missionary’s mouth.
Don’t allow yourself to be comfortable with a superficial understanding of the Gospel!
- One reason many Christians don’t share the Gospel is because they understand so little of it!
- A story-teller doesn’t just regurgitate dry facts, rather his story is lived out as it is spoken out.
- The core gospel message is simple but it is not superficial or simplistic.
- Rom 11:33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
- Eph 3:8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,
The book of Isaiah may be the richest book of prose, poetry, and prophecy in the entire Bible. The language is rich with a larger vocabulary than any other book in the Bible.
Isaiah writes at times with
- joy and hope
This is how our gospel should be communicated.
We must stop belittling the gospel in our communication!
- Stop thinking of it as a cute phrase or a particular arrangement of words
- Stop thinking of it as a ticket to heaven or a get out of jail free card
To communicate the gospel well we must know it ourselves as the power of God! We must see it as it is.
- Life transforming
- Heart renewing
- Vision giving
- Hope endowing
- Curse breaking
- Sin forgiving
- Work of the Almighty God in us!
We may take classes on it, get material to hand out, learn different methods and approaches but what I’ve found is that the main reason we are so apathetic, the main reason we groan at the idea of sharing the gospel is because we have failed to know the gospel, to live the gospel and to believe the gospel at the core of our being!
If the gospel does not naturally flow from my lips it is because it is not sufficiently in my heart.
Become like Paul and say with him, “For me to live is Christ!” and you will find that Gospel truth will begin to flow out of you in ways that you had never thought possible.
Learn the language
The responsibility to communicate is the main reason language learning is so crucial to missions. I found that successful missionaries are the ones who have never grown content with their ability to communicate in the heart language of those they serve but are continually seeking to improve. Not only do good language skills allow the missionary to survive in his new country but more importantly they allow him to communicate the gospel with greater accuracy.
Even if there is not officially a different language, learn the language of the culture around you.
The goal of a missionary is to communicate the gospel message as accurately and understandably as possible in his given culture and language. In order to do this he must invest, thousands of hours into learning this new language and culture. The truth is that culture and language can not be separated. You can learn about another culture without learning their language, but you can not truly learn a culture with its thousands of nuanced shades of meaning and near endless connotations without learning the language.
The missionary task is one of telling good news, therefore he must be prepared to focus his time and energy on the learning the communicate accurately and understandably in his ministry context.
Isaiah’s main task was to preach God’s Word to the people, to warn them of coming judgment and call them to repentance. For the New Testament believer the basic task is the same. We are called to warn people of God’s wrath against sin and exhort them to turn in repentance to Jesus Christ.
3. We Must Persevere
God is upfront with Isaiah; He lets Isaiah know right away that there will be very few who respond to his preaching. Isaiah is instructed to tell the people:
…Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive. Isa 6:9
It’s obvious that there will not be an immediate positive response to the message God has given Isaiah. In fact God tells Isaiah to literally:
Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes… Isa 6:10
This not only informs us about the calloused and indifferent response of the people but also helps us understand Isaiah’s task better. God called Isaiah to persevere in ministry, it wouldn’t be enough for him to preach one day, one month, or even one year. Isaiah must persist in his task; he must make their hearts fat with his preaching and their ears heavy.
More often than not the mission task is one of years and decades and not one of days and months. How many thousands of missionaries have gone home discouraged and dispirited after only a few months or a few years of service? Could it be that they did not understand the mission’s task and that misunderstanding resulted in their dismay, which eventually sent them home? I’m afraid that this is sometimes the case.
Friend, as you think about missions do not be misled with ideas of great success and enthusiastic responses to the gospel message. Yes, there are times when the Spirit moves and great revivals takes place, however, all revivals are preceded by years of faithful and difficult mission service with little visible fruit. We ought to pray with tears and heartfelt passion for revival to happen in our days, yet we must not be so presumptuous to assume that we are guaranteed this type of response if our faith is great enough, our prayers are strong enough, and our ministry is good enough.
It would be unwise to say that any of us are greater preachers than Isaiah and yet, he saw no revival in his day. Nevertheless he was persistent in his work and faithful in his task, this is what God requires of a missionary.
Our job is to preach faithfully and we should evaluate our ministries by faithfulness not by the number of people who responded positively, the quantity of tracts we’ve handed out, or the size of the church building we built. Yes, we want to see many respond in faith and it is a great blessing from God when that happens, nevertheless our focus should be squarely on the task of clearly and faithfully communicating God’s truth to lost people.
Although it will be uncomfortable, although it may be dangerous, although it will be hard work, although it means leaving loved ones, although there may be a thousand unknowns, we must find the lost. We must take light to those in darkness, we must go to those far from God!