If you’re a Kossuth old-timer, you may have noticed a typo in your bulletin this past week. By now, you’re used to our October tradition of Missions Emphasis, when we devote two consecutive weeks to exploring our global responsibility as a local church. But last week’s bulletin contained an apparently erroneous announcement about an upcoming Mission Emphasis—without the “s.” What’s the deal with that? Did our proofreading department take the week off or something?
Well, I’m happy to report to you that it was not a typo. (Our proofreeding deppartment is as vigilaant and hard-wroking as ever.) As it turns out, the “s” was deliberately omitted. And that little omission represents an intentional development in our theology.
In modern parlance, the term “missions” has often taken on a fairly narrow meaning. It tends to be associated primarily with paid workers who move somewhere far away to tell people about Jesus and start new churches. And while that is an important and biblically-mandated part of what the church is called to do, it’s still only a slice of something bigger. And that something bigger is mission—what Christopher Wright describes as “our committed participation as God’s people, at God’s invitation and command, in God’s own mission within the history of God’s world for the redemption of God’s creation” (The Mission of God).
One letter may not seem all that significant. But it is. Michael Goheen helps us appreciate this fact: “Mission is the whole task of the church as it is sent into the world to bear witness to the good news. As such mission is literally a perspective on all of life: the whole life of God's people both as a gathered and a scattered community bears witness to the lordship of Jesus Christ over the entirety of human affairs. Missions is one part of this bigger role that the church plays in God's story” (A Light to the Nations). In other words, missions is a subset of mission. So in moving from an emphasis on missions to an emphasis on mission, we’re seeking to embrace a holistic call upon us that involves each and every Christian.
That’s why this year’s Mission Emphasis theme is “Near & Far.” During these two weeks, I’m hoping that we’ll get used to some new terminology and have our horizons expanded to embrace the reality that all of us—whether pastor, janitor, teacher, mechanic, or missionary—are equally invited to be participants in the mission of God in this world.
This shift in emphasis might concern you. It might cause you to ask, “Does this mean we’re not going to be as passionate about global missions as we once were?”
The answer to this question is a resounding, “No.” In emphasizing mission, we’re not backing away from missions in any way whatsoever. Quite the opposite.
When my wife and I found out we were going to have a second child, our first was just nine months old at the time and I was still in shock from adjusting to entirely new dimensions of love. This little girl had filled my heart to the bursting point. And so to find out that another one was on the way scared me. “How could I possibly love another little human being as much as I love the first one?” I thought. Surely I had no more capacity in my already-full heart for another child!
But then our second daughter was born, and I realized within about 10 seconds that parental love isn’t a zero-sum game. It has a strange way of multiplying and growing. I looked at my newborn baby, my eyes filled with tears, and I realized that I loved her. Really, really loved her. And then I went out to the waiting room to announce the big news to our oldest daughter. I gave her a big hug, and in doing so, I realized that I still loved her, too. A lot. Maybe even more than before.
When we say that we’re going to emphasize mission—both near and far—we’re not suggesting that we need to back off one in order to accentuate the other. Rather, our desire is that our hearts will be expanded and stirred to embrace both aspects of God’s mission with ever-increasing devotion. To quote Michael Goheen again: “As the church develops a vision for and begins to become involved in missions to the ends of the earth, the more likely it is that that church will also be a missional church near to home. Missions has the potential to revitalize a missional vision for the whole world, including the neighborhood.”
Near and far. Both are vital. Both are integral components of God’s mission. And both will be set before us the next two Sundays as we seek to be obedient participants in that mission. Join us!