Archives For Missions

Week 2 of Faith & Work at The Point Church in Seymour, Indiana swerved into a less inspiring “work theology” revelation: work is broken. You probably didn’t need a biblical scholar to tell you this, your own experience informs you every day.

Work was created perfectly, but we experience it imperfectly. Work isn’t the result of sin, but it is corrupted by sin. This is where we live.

The bible has a lot to say about the brokenness of our work, and in turn, what we can do about it. I hope this both challenges and inspires you.

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My friends at The Point Church in Seymour, Indiana invited me to teach a 4-week series on the intersection of our faith and the work we do in the “secular” world each day. What God’s Word has to say about this subject might surprise you.

When we work, we “image” God, we cultivate His creation, and we love our neighbor. I hope this encourages you as your alarm clock goes off tomorrow.

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Let’s face it, it’s much easier to leave Jesus out of missions. He gums up the works. Messes things up. Makes them awkward.

I’m part of an organization that mobilizes business for missions work around the world. It’s an awesome company, doing awesome work, both here and abroad. But I’ve noticed something interesting:

When I share with our staff (many who are not Christians) about the missions work we do, it’s so easy to tell them about the schools and the medical clinics we’ve helped start. It’s the stories about church planting and the proclamation of Jesus I struggle to craft. The excitement quickly morphs into uncomfortable silence. “Why’d you have to go and bring Him up?”

That leaves me in an interesting spot and pondering what will likely be a controversial statement for some of you:

Missions is about the proclamation of Jesus Christ and the establishment of The Church.

I know, I know, some of you are rushing to your Bible (or the latest millennial magazine article) to show me why I’m wrong. You’ll (mis)quote Francis of Assisi who (never really) said “preach the Gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words.” No one really knows where that came from by the way, as Assisi was a bold proclaimer of Jesus in everything that he did. Personally, I prefer Ed Stetzer’s rewrite:

“Preach the Gospel at all times, and because it’s necessary, use words.”

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Photo CreditivanCHANG

We humans have a unique ability to overcorrect, and today’s generation is understandably energized by “doing good.” That is a beautiful thing. We must do good works, serve the poor, respond to the oppressed, care for the orphan and the least of these (I can quote you all those scriptures, too) to live out or roles as Christ-followers in this world. But if the proclamation of the Gospel and the declaration of Jesus is not central, not on our lips, not the ultimate point, then we are not engaging in New Testament missions work.

Good works will accompany the proclamation of Jesus, but they cannot replace it. Jesus is the game changer.

I think there are two main reasons modern christians get uncomfortable with the idea of Gospel-proclamation and expansion of The Church as the ultimate focus of missions work:

1. Western Cynicism Toward The Church: I think many have become disillusioned with the idea of church in our western sphere. Pick your poison: too traditional, too institutional, poor leadership, too personality driven, too wealthy, too inward focused, too _____________. Because we’ve embraced cynicism toward The Church here, we don’t get real excited about the idea of replicating it elsewhere. But The Church, broken and imperfect, is God’s idea and has been His mechanism for spreading the Gospel message and His Kingdom to a broken and imperfect world. We’ve got 2000+ years to prove it.

2. Our Obsession with Being Liked: It’s a “how many likes can I get” world out there. I know, because I’m engaged in it, too. Addressing social ills and championing charitable endeavors garner positive media attention and “good feelings” from outsiders. Who doesn’t rally around anti-sex-trafficking and clean water? Adding Jesus to the mix just stirs up controversy and narrows our platform. And to make things worse, proclamation is associated with the obnoxious bull-horn preacher standing on his soap box and reading hellfire verses from the King James outside local sporting events. Who wants to be that guy? It’s easier to focus on the good we’re doing and just keep Jesus to ourselves. And in that, I fear we lose the whole point.

Just to be clear…

When we see the hungry, we feed them. When we see the naked, we clothe them, When we see the uneducated, we teach them. When we see marginalized and abused, we fight for them. But to everyone, at all times, and in all ways, we must proclaim the deity of Jesus, and His life, death, and resurrection as the only hope for this broken world.

With our mouths.

It’s not “we’re right and you’re wrong,” it’s “we’re all wrong and Jesus is the only One who can make things right.”

Missions cannot be over-simplified to “do good.” We must embrace the proclamation of Jesus (with our words) and the establishment of His Church to the ends of the earth. Good works will accompany our proclamation, but they cannot replace it. Let’s make sure that Jesus is “messing up” our missions work.

If I asked you to join me for lunch with a successful Chinese businessman…

  • A major chicken producer, including all the KFC’s in northern China.
  • An exporter of medical gloves, shipping over 7 billion units his last year in the business.
  • A man who oversaw nearly 10,000 employees and multiple factories and production facilities in his 20 years of leadership.

…what kind of man would you expect to meet?

Probably not the child-like guy listening intently as my 9 year old son taught him to hit a baseball in the empty lot across from our suburban Indiana home. Not the guy high-fiving and chest bumping the neighborhood kids as he pounded his first “home run” into the outfield shrubs. Not the guy laughing uncontrollably at his first exposure to America’s Funniest Home Videos (our family’s Sunday night ritual) before retiring to sleep on an Kohl’s clearance futon in my basement.

But Joseph is different. After tasting almost all the success the extremely focused and highly competitive Chinese culture has to offer, he sold it all and walked away at age 42. “The first half of my life was focused on my business,” he told me. “Now God gets the second half to help reach the children and youth of China.

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Get Joseph talking about Chinese teenagers and he’ll likely start crying. The demands of the Eastern culture swallow so many of them. They go to school 6 days a week. Then after a normal day of classes, almost all of them head straight to tutoring (school after school), and some even attend additional study sessions after tutoring that last late into the evening (school after school after school). All this learning drives toward one cumulative exam that effectively decides their entire future.

Depression is high, suicide is rampant, and church is an afterthought (even in christian families). Education is god.

“We’re losing the next generation,” he says with great urgency. “I want to do something about that.”

So he’s seeking to cast vision, unite churches, create programs, and even build youth camps, leveraging the very same skills that helped him develop two massively successful businesses for a whole new cause: the children and youth of China.

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Joseph inspires me. Not because of his innate business sense, his big vision, or his willingness to sacrifice. Sure, those are all impressive. But the thing that inspires me most about Joseph is that somehow, amidst all the self-confidence that is born from great success, and all the admiration and privilege that come from fulfilling such highly-valued cultural expectations…

Joseph never lost his identity.

We see how identity is swallowed by our failures and personal struggles. Bankruptcy. Rebellious kids. Job termination. Weight problems. Career stagnation. Divorce. Life’s difficulties, social hierarchies, and the ongoing commentary of a hypercritical culture (as well as those relentless voices in our heads) chip away at our identity with unending persistence. We begin to see ourselves as less than who we really are, God’s beautiful creation made in His image. The ball rolls easily downhill.

But identity isn’t just lost in our shortcomings. In fact, it may be even easier to misplace amongst our successes.

When you find your groove and begin to make your way in the world, a healthy dose of self-confidence can quickly turn into a false foundation of self-reliance. We clothe ourselves in the accolades of others, and “successful” is who we become. The same voices that condemn us when we fall transform into a choir of passionate worshippers ushering us into the throne room of our accomplishments.

Success can steal our identity, too.

But not for Joseph.

How can a man who had it all walk away from it all? What he does was never who he was. His identity is in Jesus.

We are all looking for ourselves somewhere – work, pleasure, family, success, wealth, appearances, religious piousness or secular enlightenment. And the truth is, most of us are exhausted. You see, Jesus didn’t just come to teach us morality, He came to solve our identity crisis. His finished work – in history – replaces all the things we do and all the places we go to “find ourselves.” It is finished. There are no failures to earn our way out of, and no successes that can keep up our image. Exhale. In Christ, our identity is secured.

Joseph knows who he is, whether he is commanding 10,000 employees or sleeping on a fold-out mattress in his American friend’s basement. And because of that, I believe that countless Chinese youth are going to find the same freedom, too.

So can you.

When I was growing up, there were two major life paths we discussed within the context of our youth group and church culture (that is, when we weren’t debating the spiritual impact of Amy Grant’s crossover albums or whether movie-going became sinful at PG-13 or R). The conversation usually went something like this:

“Have you been called into full-time ministry, or are you going into the secular world?”

Or sometimes we phrased it this way:

“Are you planing to enter the ministry or fund the ministry?”

A third iteration might have emerged in more missional terms:

“Are you a sender or a goer?”

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As a high school kid longing to serve God and live out my faith in this world, I was keenly aware of this sacred/secular fork in the road. It quietly plagued many of us as we watched peers respond to altar calls at youth group rallies or emotionally-charged church camp services aimed at separating the chosen from the unchosen, the called from ordinary, the truly elect from the “financial supporters.”

Please don’t misunderstand, there is something holy and unique about full-time vocational ministry, of taking on the weighty role of an ecclesiastical leader within the life of a local church body (I know, I spent 12 years in just such a role). My concern is not that we’ve over-inflated this high calling, but that we may have unintentionally relegated business and everyday work to a tier of second-class christianity.

I recently had the honor of attending a gathering of businessmen, pastors, and leaders from all over the world to discuss 21st Century global trends and how they are impacting (or need to be impacting) the way we do ministry and missions work today. From Europe, to China, to India, Africa, and America, so many insights, angles, and ideas emerged I couldn’t write fast enough to record the barrage. But from beneath the fog of all this brilliant commentary, one key mantra continually resonated with my business-turned-pastor-turned-business-leader spirit:

Across the globe, ministry leaders are asking how we can break down this “sacred/secular” divide; about our need to harness the business community as a full-on ministry partner and not just limit their involvement to financial giving alone.

Here are a few questions to ponder:

What would it look like to see business as more than just an ATM machine for “real ministry,” but as an actual Kingdom solution?

What would it look like to better engage business people in ministry and mission – not only through their secondary giftings as ushers and choir members or Sunday school teachers – but through their primary, God-given gifts and talents as businessmen and women?

What would it look like to begin championing business and everyday work as “sacred” work? To develop a healthier and more holistic theology of work itself?

I’m starting this conversation in my own circles and would love to invite you into the dialog. What do you think? Have we misdefined sacred and secular when it comes to our work? Do these walls need to be broken down? If so, how?