Families living in poverty.
A one room building that serves as both the school and the doctor's office for the people living there.
A group of people smiling and dancing as they sing songs about God.
A missionary teaching as a local interprets.
As the images continue to flash across the screen a missionary couple begin to speak:
They talk about the plight of the people they are living amongst.
They make comparisons to our comfortable lifestyle here in America and the simple, poor lifestyle where they serve.
They talk about how much good a few dollars can do there and if you can just give up a few lattes a month you could help them change these people's lives.
As they continue to speak and as the images continue on the screen, your guilt grows. You know that you should be more concerned about these people. You know that you should be more generous. You know that there should be more urgency in your spirit about reaching people like this. You give some money during the special offering and promise to make missions a more important part of who you are.
A week later, you have forgotten the missionary couple, the people they serve, and your promise to change.
Life continues just as it did before the missionaries came and spoke, just like it will until the next missionaries come with their pictures and speak of the plight of the people they serve.
Growing up in Southern Baptist churches, that describes for me a typical Sunday morning presentation from a missionary. It also brings some questions to my mind:
Why is it that we struggle so much cultivating a heart for missions?
Why is it that so many pleas for help from the mission field seem designed to induce guilt in us?
How can we change these things?
I think we can change these things with one major shift in our thinking:
Missions is not about the people who need God, it is about God Himself.
The truth is that we struggle with a heart for unreached people because we don't know them. Their plight doesn't immediately affect us. We know this doesn't seem right, so when we are reminded of these unreached people we feel guilty for not being more concerned about them than we are. Unfortunately, as the missionaries go back to the mission field, their work and the people they serve recede back into the recesses of our minds and life goes on.
What if, instead of trying to focus solely on arousing concern for the people who need God, we focused on pursuing God Himself and teaching others to do the same. What if the glory of God and seeing it proclaimed to the ends of the earth became our highest concern. I am not saying that we shouldn't be concerned with the eternal fate of those who have never heard the Gospel. We should. The question is how to develop that concern in a way that will last and in a way not based on guilt. I think the answer is to put missions in its proper place.
Missions is important, but not as important as worshiping God. As John Piper said:
Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn't.When people develop a passion for the glory of God in all the earth, they can't help but develop a passion for missions. As we pursue God and He becomes fully formed in us, we find ourselves desiring what He desires. We long for His name to be made great among the nations and we long for the nations to know the joy of worshiping our King.
So lets stop trying to manufacture desire for missions and start leading our people to wholeheartedly run after Jesus in every way. I think we will find that a heart for missions will develop in such a way that nothing will be the same ever again.