The death of Evangelical missions...

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There was a time when missions meant preaching the Gospel to all the world and being a missionary meant being sent to all the world to preach the Gospel. The Auca martyrs went to the Aucas to preach the Gospel. They went from love of their fellow men to tell them about sin and righteousness and judgment, then the hope of forgiveness and eternal life through the cross of the Only Lord Jesus Christ.

They did not go as a publicity stunt to "raise awareness" about the "marginalized."

Today, though, we have a different kind of missions and a different kind of missionary. Christian missions has evolved and has little to do with preaching the Gospel. And yet every Christian missionary and Christian mission non-profit organization claims to be...

fulfilling the Great Commission:

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Take the time to read the "missions" letters sent out every couple of months by the "missionaries" out on the "mission field"; spend some time asking them pointed questions when they're back in the States on home assignment; and often you'll find their major concerns and commitments aren't preaching the Gospel and planting churches for the salvation of mankind, but helping their children get ahead as they grow up and making their presence in whatever country they serve innocuous enough that they fit in and don't awaken any hostility. In other words, family and job security.

Their lives are given to anthropology, linguistics, literacy, wells and water, refugee camps, education, leadership training; to everything but preaching the Gospel as the Apostle Paul preached it in Athens, Corinth, and Ephesus. Note that his preaching threatened the trade in idolatry and caused the merchants to mount a riot against the foreigner:

For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, was bringing no little business to the craftsmen; these he gathered together with the workmen of similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that our prosperity depends upon this business. You see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all. Not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the world worship will even be dethroned from her magnificence.”

When they heard this and were filled with rage, they began crying out, saying, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” (Acts 19:24-28)

Jesus preceded His command that we make disciples of all the nations, baptizing and teaching them to obey everything He commanded, by declaring His Father had given Him "all authority in Heaven and on earth." But authority is absent from missions today. Imagine Cru or I-V or Navigators or Veritas proclaiming the authority of Jesus Christ on the campuses where churches from around the country pay them to be missionaries. Imagine missionaries today repeating the Apostle Paul's words to Athens' Areopagus:

Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead. (Acts 17:30, 31)

Yes, there are some outstanding missionaries out there still today, but you have to work to find them, and Evangelicals don't want to do the work of discernment. Evangelicals give money to missionaries today for much the same reason Roman Catholics give money to their religious orders and the Vatican: it's the vicarious participation in special works of godliness through which we gain favor with God and bragging rights among other Christians. "Our church gives fifty percent of its budget to foreign missions," we say, but nevermind what those missionaries actually do out there on the missions field. Foreign is sacrificial, missions is godly, and that's the end of it. Foreign missions are the Evangelical's works of supererogation allowing your church and mine to receive assurance of our salvation. Evangelical missions are our treasury of merit.

Nothing the missionary doesn't say will ever convince us that our money—or should I say the Lord's money—is thrown away. We may spend ten years paying our college buddy and his wife and three children to live in Papua New Guineau and teach women there how important it is to eat a balanced diet during pregnancy; for ten years we may receive MailChimp prayer letters from them every three or six months showing pics of them teaching women how important it is to eat a balanced diet during pregnancy; we may know more about their son's ongoing battle with asthma than we know about any riot or slander or mocking they have suffered because they preached the Gospel; we may never hear any mention of the church or preaching or this or that man or woman "believing"; we may simply assume that the money we send to our foreign missionary friends is paying for modern-day Apostle Pauls to preach the Gospel—they just can't mention it in their prayer letters because it is so very sensitive.

Like me, you may get letters from your missionary friends similar to this I received a couple days ago from a longtime friend and his wife our churches used to support. They live in a northern hemisphere, first-world country and here they explain the work they are doing for the missions pay they are receiving from Evangelical church's missions budgets Stateside:

Run for the World started in 2007 with the aim of uniting the world to reach the poor and marginalised. Since then we have focussed the event on uniting in sport to transform communities specifically by raising awareness and money.

This year we are organising an event in each of the 24 time zones in order to raise money to further develop ____ sports ministries in over 26 countries. The goal for October 4th is for all R4TW events on that day to accumulate a grand total of at least 40,000 KM, which is the distance around the world. Although running around the whole world in one day is impossible for one person to accomplish, it is possible when we unite together. The kilometers that each person runs or walks during their local R4TW event will be counted towards this goal.

To qualify for this all you need to do is register your event then record the distance each person runs and let us know by email or text message that day.

Format 1-HOUR CHALLENGE – usually this is a 5k race or fun run but the event takes many different forms around the world to suit the community you live in. This year we want to encourage the ’1-hour challenge’ – run as far as you can wherever you are in 60 minutes.  This ties in with you time zone and our attempt to accumulate as many km as possible.

As long as it’s a run or even a walk you can be part of R4TW.

Did you read that? This Evangelical mission and its missionaries are running and their running is "focussed ...on uniting in sport to transform communities specifically by raising awareness and money."

Now because this missions letter has been sent out by a personal friend of mine, you might properly wonder if I have spoken to him personally before criticizing him and his mission publicly? Yes, of course I have—although long before this particular prayer letter arrived. In fact, our pastors and elders spent many hours working with this brother, trying to reclaim his work for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God. But he was adamant that his mission organization agreed this was God's call on his life, and who were we to argue? As we said to him at the time, everyone can see the whole world is going bonkers over sports, so why shouldn't Evangelical missions and missionaries go bonkers over sports, also? What an opportunity to insert or insinuate the Gospel into something people care about. Something that is universally seen as transcendent.

The above text is almost the entire report on his work sent out by this missionary this quarter. You may want to brush this aside, saying the missionaries you support are preaching and teaching and appointing elders in every city and suffering persecution. If so, Godspeed to you and them!

It's more likely, though, that your missionary friends and loved ones are not preaching the Gospel or planting any churches or suffering anything other than spotty internet connections and iffy Skype calls.

Over the course of the past ten years or so, we've worked closely with our church's missionaries to find out who among them is working directly to fulfill the Great Commission, or is willing to turn in that direction? What we've found is that Evangelical missions today has changed from preaching the Gospel to dispensing vitamins to pregnant women, digging wells for villages, and handing out nets to keep malaria at bay.

Now add sports. Add running around the world "to transform communities specifically by raising awareness and money."

Of course I have nothing against running. Of course I have nothing against missionaries running. Of course I have nothing against missionaries getting a bunch of people to run with them. Of course I have nothing against all of them keeping track of how far they ran. Yet, why stop with around the world? If a cow jumped over the moon, we would think Evangelicals motivated by their desire to raise awareness and money would find it within themselves to run to the moon.

Good and faithful and godly missions and missionaries are out there and worth supporting with money and prayer. But recognizing them and casting your congregation's lot in with them requires discernment. It requires finding and weeding out missions and missionaries who don't preach the Gospel; who don't build the church and therefore don't suffer.

The proclamation of the Gospel for the salvation of mankind is worth this hard and painful work.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!