Keith Green told us, “Jesus commands us to go. It should be the exception if we stay. It’s no wonder we’re moving so slow, When His church refuse to obey.” I used to think that if Green had been allotted a few more years, he probably would have walked away from his career as a musician to be a missionary. He had such passion for missions that it seemed inevitable. But that was when I was young and idealistic, before I realized this is not the way these things things work. Not usually, anyway.
One of the unexpectedly difficult things about preaching, at least in my experience, is when I encounter one of those commands or applications in which I am far from exemplary. I need to preach that passage and I need to preach it as it is, yet all the while I carry this deep awareness of my own failings. But I still have to preach it. If I could only preach those areas in which I am excelling, well, an awful lot of the Bible would remain out-of-bounds.
I both love and hate to preach passages that speak to evangelism, and especially mission, to taking the gospel to the nations. When I preach those passages I come up against one of my observations and one of my frustrations in the Christian world. It used to be a frustration with others. Now it’s a frustration with myself.
You’ve probably heard it said that when it comes to missions, there are the goers and the senders. There are the few who go, and there are the many who send them. We can’t all go, or we would have no one to resource the work that needs to be done. Well and good. I am fully aware that even while the New Testament tells us to take the gospel to the farthest reaches of the world, it also commends a quiet life right where we are. God does not require all of us to be foreign missionaries.
What jumps out at me as I look at the Evangelical world, is that the voices screaming “Go!” the loudest are not people who have gone, but people who have stayed. It’s not the missionaries telling us to go, but the mission-trippers. They have gone for a week here or there. Maybe they even went for a month. But they issue their commands from safe pulpits in safe countries, from mega-conferences where they stay in suites, from comfortable lives in comfortable parts of the world. The Go! seems to lose a little bit of its weight when the one giving it is earning a good living in a safe suburb or when he has never gone for more than a week at a time.
I am not the exception. I have gone to see amazing, inspiring work in Europe and the Middle East and Asia. I have been able use this platform, this blog, to bring awareness to some of the Lord’s work. But in the end, I’ve gone back to an airport and returned to a safe and suburban life. The greatest hardship I have faced so far was trying to use an eastern-style toilet, the greatest danger was unbottled water, the greatest suffering was twelve hours in economy class.
When I return to my home I have added information, added fuel, so I can preach all the more about the importance of going. I preach from Acts, or I preach one of the great and unexpected Old Testament revivals, or I preach the Great Commission, and I tell people, Go! I tell them this with all the authority of God, because I tell them this from his Word. Yet I stay. Sure, I put increased effort into living a generous life and into resourcing those who are doing the work. But do I do this because I really believe this is my calling, because I believe this is what God really expects of me, or am I buying off my conscience?
So this is why today I am announcing that I am … No, I’m not. I’m staying right here. I feel no call to foreign mission. I sometimes imagine that I do, but it quickly wanes. Learn a foreign language? Learn a foreign culture? Raise my own financial support? That all looks insurmountably difficult. Even then, I don’t know that I’ve got the faith to take my family across the sea to a country where they won’t be as safe and as comfortable as they will be in this nice suburb of Toronto. Can I ask that of my wife and children? Is it fair? The more I see my own unwillingness, the more I admire those who are willing.
I am still waiting for a prominent Christian leader to give up his megachurch, or his conference itinerary, or his radio show, to disappear into the far reaches. But it never happens, does it? I have much less to give up than many of those prominent leaders, but even then I feel myself clinging to it so tightly. I’ve become what I never wanted to be.