Forgetting Missions

Basil MillerI like old books and was reading Ten Famous Missionaries by Basil Miller in 1949. A peek inside my twisted mind: By page 1 my brain was hurting. By page 11 I had to put the book down and spend a few days processing. (Overanalyze much?) This is why I can’t get through good books. I read the foreword of Mere Christianity over a dozen times before actually reading the rest of the book.

Many consider William Carey to be the “founder of modern missions.” Which makes me wonder, “Why did missions need re-founded?”

“Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”
– William Carey

William CareyIn 1786, William Carey proposed the topic “The Duty of Christians to Attempt the Spread of the Gospel among the Heathen” to a ministers meeting. That it even needed discussed, let alone debated, surprised me. Isn’t missions Christianity 101?

The chairman at the meeting shut him down: “When God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without your aid!”

Mind blown. Could Christians really get to this state? Opposed to active missions, opposed to spreading the Gospel, assuming God would magically make stuff happen without us having to make sacrifices and intentional efforts in being His hands and feet?

Apparently yes. Carey is considered the founder of modern missions because many groups of Believers really didn’t do missions anymore. Yikes.

According to author Basil Miller, “The meeting of pious-minded ministers, busy with their tiny churches and the problems they daily faced” met suggestions of evangelizing outsiders with indifference at best.

Carey argued that Christians should actively employ effort in converting the unsaved. (Alright, William – let’s not get out of hand!) He was a shoemaker but saw his “job” as just a means to support himself while exploring ways to serve God and engage in missions.

On May 31, 1792 he challenged his congregation: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” By October, a dozen Baptist preachers committed to forming a missionary society to raise funds – and by 1793 Carey was in India.

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Carey preached to 200 villages while managing an indigo factory, believing missions should be self-supporting once founded. He opened grade schools and a Christian college. As a linguist, he translated and published the entire Bible in Bengalese. he then went on to build his own paper mill with a printing press to spread the Gospel – and led teams to translate the Bible in part or in whole into 35 languages. He established a hospital for lepers and opposed barbaric practices such as the burning of widows on their husbands’ funeral pyres and the sacrificing of children to the Ganges River gods.

All this because he simply read the Word and obeyed.

“Remember three things. First, that it is your duty to preach the Gospel to every creature. Second, remember that God has declared that His word shall accomplish that for which it is sent. Third, that He can easily remove the present seemingly formidable obstacles as we can move the small particles of dust.”

– William Carey

As I reflected, I felt stunned. Could something so fundamental to being a Christian, such as sharing the Gospel with others, be totally forgotten and abandoned by Christian leaders who say, “God will do it without your help”? It’s clearly possible – Carey only stands out because so few Christian ministers were evangelizing and doing missions in his time.

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If many ministers in Carey’s time had completely forgotten missions – and even fought against new missions movements – couldn’t there be godly pursuits that the Church today has largely forgotten or abandoned? Pursuits waiting for a champion to go against a tide of Christian complacency to say, “God cares about this issue!” or “God values these people!” Areas the Church needs reform by refocusing on lost values?

Leave your thoughts in the comments about areas Christians might be outsourcing their responsibility to God – “If He cares about it, he’ll handle it” – instead of taking up the mantel of responsibility to be His hands and feet, to be His heart – to care about the things He cares about until He comes back to redeem them.

To spark your thoughts – I think one clear area is environmental care. From pollution to climate concerns, we’ve poorly stewarded the Garden God left in our care. Will Christians lead the charge in caring for Earth? For now, we seem more intent on defending Creationism than Creation itself. (More here: Creation Reloaded)

What areas do you see Christians shying away from issues God cares about in Scripture? Where do we dismissively say, “If God wants it done, He’ll do it without your aid”?

Want more? Other missions-related posts:
Oh, the places they’ve been…
Loving locally
Giving Gone Rogue

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One thought on “Forgetting Missions

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  1. Two things, first to answer your question on something Christians are outsourcing to God. Correction of sin in the body of Christ is one thing I see being put on God to fix. Many of us don’t want to confront things at all, but we can address problems in a loving and gentle way. I think it comes from a misunderstanding in what it means when Jesus says not to judge.

    In terms of politics, this has gotten way out of control. It looks like we are supporters of lying, adultery, violence, etc. We allow a lot of things to happen without voicing concerns, then when we do voice concerns it seems to always be things that will further alienate those we want to spread the gospel to. We should judge correctly with discernment, speak out against the sins, but not condemn people for their sins. I find that many of us in the political arena are committing sins while trying to stop other sins.

    The second thing is that I don’t see missions as being for every Christian. In 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12:3-8, Paul talks about not everyone is the same body part in the body of Christ. We all have different gifts and those gifts lead us to serve in different ways. So while I agree that missions for those gifted in spreading the gospel in that way is important, I don’t agree that it is the personal responsibility of every Christian. I think some form of ministry and expression of our faith and knowledge of the gospel is necessary, but actively seeking people out is not for everyone.

    There are many of us who are still very flawed people who struggle to communicate things in a gentle and loving way. It is something they should work on, but they probably shouldn’t be out there trying to convert the unbeliever.

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