October 29, 2013

Making Sense of the Great Commission

by John Scully

One of our guests at staff meeting was the son of a staff member, a young man serving in the military who is home to visit his family before he goes off to Afghanistan for six months. He gave a short talk about his responsibilities, some of the dangers he will face, and then the staff prayed for God´s care and protection over him in his service to America.

It reminded me of how American churches used to (and still do on a smaller scale) send missionaries overseas to do battle for the Lord in foreign lands. The little independent Bible church I attended prayed for missionaries and sent them off under God´s care, and always, it seemed, the pastor would ask, “. . . is God calling YOU to go?”

I was a teenager then, a new Christian. I vividly remember saying goodbye to our beloved youth leader who decided to be a missionary to people living on a small island in the South Pacific. I could not understand why he wanted to move his beautiful family, wife, and children, to a remote, faraway place.

It made me angry. I argued with him, in fact, telling him how unfair it was for him to leave behind his extended family, and how our youth were greatly disappointed.

But he went. Felt “called to go,” he said.

In those days, and perhaps from that experience, I began to think that the Great Commission (Matt 28:19) was a harsh command calling people to abandon family, friends, and culture. “Go and make disciples of all nations. . . ” combined with Acts 1:8, meant going “unto the uttermost part of the earth.” I didn´t like it. Every missionary Sunday I endured the missionary talk, slouching in the pew, wishing I was not there, hoping that I would not hear God´s voice calling me to go to India or Africa.

In the years that followed I stayed away from missionary meetings, visits from American missionaries returning from the field to give their reports, and closed my heart to the overseas missions field, I preferred instead to be God´s witness in “Jerusalem,” in my present world, at school, in the marketplace, or on the job.

I was content that others were going, but “God, please don´t send me over there.”

I knew the command and it was a spiritual dilemma for me that lasted a long time. More than 20 years.

Then, one day while job hunting, I happened to walk into an old building on Ivy Road, in Charlottesville, carrying my portfolio and resume. The white weathered sign on the corner of the property said, Christian Aid MISSION.

It wasn´t until I sat down with the president of the organization that I realized I´d missed the word “Mission” on the sign.

“Who is a missionary?” he asked me during my interview. “A Christian who goes overseas to spread the gospel,” I said as my heart sank. I was sure he wanted to send me overseas. Instead Bob Finley completely changed my understanding of missions. He explained the more Biblical method for the Great Commission, which is to reach foreign visitors and send them back home, with support, to reach their own people.

I found the answer to my dilemma. Today Christians can be found in every country, and they are doing mission work among their own people, far better than I, or any other American, could.

The Great Commission finally made sense to me. And I am a part of it by helping indigenous missionaries take the gospel to the uttermost parts of the world . . . where they already live.

John Scully- posted October 31, 2013
Thank you, Sybil, for your thoughtful comments. You are right that many of the 18th century English and American missionaries had a profound impact in countries where the gospel was not known. I am thankful, and praise God for their work. One of the things I learned from Bob Finley was that at the beginning, the gospel was most likely spread by foreigners in Jerusalem, hearing the testimony as recorded in Acts 2, and returning to their own people with the good news. He discusses this mission strategy, along with the missionary journeys of Paul and the apostles in his book “Reformation in Foreign Missions.” If you have not read it, I encourage you to ask for a free copy. We would be very happy to send it to you as our gift to you. You may request it by clicking here.
Sybil- posted October 31, 2013
I agree with John Scully to a point, but without the first Missionaries from lands such as England and North America beginning the great commission in these countries, there would not be indigenous missionaries knowing about Jesus today. Also, there is a place in Missions today for us to come alongside indigenous missionaries to teach them strong Biblical doctrine, and help and support them in many other ways.