The Language of Mission

Selected Scriptures

The Reverend Bryn MacPhail / August 6, 2006


            I wonder how many of you were surprised last Sunday to learn that the primary impetus for evangelism is not the well-being of others. Yes, the well-being of others is extremely important—The Bible says that God “desires that none should perish” (2Pet. 3:9), and we share that sentiment. But, we learned last week that the predominant reason for evangelism, according to Scripture, is the greatness of God.


            Every human being lives in the presence of God’s greatness, but there are many who have not yet realized this. First and foremost, we are to witness to others because we have come into contact with a God who is infinitely glorious. People need God, yes—but more than that, people ought to be recognizing and acknowledging the greatness of God. This is our logic for mission.


            Once we understand why we need to testify to others what we have found in Christ, it will be important to consider how we should convey this message. Because the Christian Gospel is, inherently, a message, it follows that verbal proclamation will be one of the ways in which we convey the Gospel. Indeed, verbal proclamation—that is, people talking to other people about Jesus—is the primary method of witness found in Scripture.


            Unfortunately, this is where many Christians, and many congregations, get tripped up. It can hardly be debated that a great many Christians are reluctant to talk to others about Jesus Christ. And why is that? Evangelist, Leighton Ford, produced these common answers from a survey he conducted:


            “I’m afraid I might do more harm than good.”

            “I don’t know what to say.”

            “I don’t have snappy answers to tricky questions.”

            “I’m afraid I might offend the person.”

            “I’m afraid I might be a hypocrite.”


Do any of these statements describe how you feel? Without taking a survey of my own, I suspect the findings might be similar here. Many of us harbour a fear of ridicule and a fear of rejection when faced with the prospect of witnessing to others about Jesus.


            If this describes you, I have some good news and some not so good news. The good news is that witnessing about Jesus involves much more than verbal proclamation. This morning we will survey some texts that reveal how we can positively witness for Christ without ever opening our mouth. In these texts, you will be pleased to learn that the language of mission is varied. That is, there is more than one way to engage in the work of evangelism.


            Now, for those who harbour a fear of how others will respond to your verbal witness, here is the ‘not so good news’:  Without verbal witness, the work of evangelism is incomplete. Though the process of evangelism is ongoing, and the methods varied, there comes a point when it is necessary “to give a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” (1Pet. 3:15). Verbal witness is required to ‘close the deal’, if you will.


            So, as we move ahead to examine the different languages of mission, let us not imagine that the importance of verbal proclamation can be diminished.


            The first language of mission I would like us to look at is the language of prayer. Prayer is something, presumably, that every Christian already does. And prayer is a meaningful entry point for us into the work of evangelism. In fact, Jesus commands our participation in this regard. Jesus says to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Mt. 9:37, 38).


            Here, Jesus instructs us to pray for more evangelists. Our prayer is that God would cause Christians who are not currently engaged in witnessing for Christ to begin witnessing for Him.


            Along a similar vein, the apostle Paul calls for us to pray for those who are actively engaged in verbally proclaiming the Gospel. Paul implores us, “Never give up praying. And when you pray, keep alert and be thankful. Be sure to pray that God will make a way for us to spread his message and explain the mystery about Christ, even though I am in jail for doing this. Please pray that I will make the message as clear as possible” (Col. 4:2-4).


            Paul explains here the manner in which we should pray—from a disposition of alertness and thanksgiving—and he specifically asks that prayer be made in order to help spread the message and in order to ensure that the message is proclaimed clearly.


            Because this instruction on prayer appears in Holy Scripture, we infer that engaging in prayer in this way, and for these purposes, will not be an exercise in futility. Jesus would not call us to do something in vain.


            I expect that if you pray for God to raise up more evangelists, I expect that if you pray for the Gospel message to be spread far and wide in a clear fashion, then God will positively answer you. And if God answers your prayers regarding the work and success of evangelism, then is it not true that you have meaningfully engaged in the work?


            Every single one of us has the opportunity, daily, to engage in evangelism through our prayers.


            Something should also be said about our prayers for the lost—our prayers for those who have yet to follow Christ.


If your experience has been like mine, you have been praying for particular persons to receive Christ for many years, and in some cases, you have yet to see such prayers come to fruition. In such instances, I suspect many of us are tempted to give up praying; believing that the person is too far gone, or that too much time has passed.


            When I find myself feeling this way, I bring to mind what Howard Hendricks shared with a group of pastors who gathered together in Chicago for a conference. Hendricks explained how resistant his father was to the Christian Gospel—his father was a strong military man and regarded Christianity as a religion for weak people.


            Howard Hendricks, along with his wife, and children, constantly prayed for the senior Hendricks. Howard recalled a time when he and his young son went to the airport to pick up his father. As soon as the senior Hendricks was within the sightlines of Howard’s son, the boy went racing towards his grandfather and shouted,


“Grandpa, do you love Jesus yet?”

            “No son. I’m sorry” was the senior Hendricks’ reply.

            “Don’t worry grandpa—you will some day—we’re praying for you!”


Many years later, after 42 years of prayer for his salvation, Howard Hendricks’ father became a Christian—and as he reflected with his son Howard on his journey to faith, he said that he regarded the prayers of the family—particularly, the grandchildren to have been the difference.


            Beloved, we must not cease in our prayers for the lost, and we must not cease in our prayers for those who are actively seeking the lost through the verbal proclamation of the Gospel.


            The next language of mission I would like us to consider is the language of giving money.


Jesus has instructed us to go into “all the nations” to baptize and to make disciples (Mt. 28:19). For the great majority of us, this is not possible—nor is it practical. It wouldn’t be practical to send 250 members of St. Giles Kingsway all over the globe. What we resolve to do instead is we send money to support those evangelists and missionaries who are already out there doing the work of proclamation.


            This is precisely what the ancient church at Philippi did. Paul opens his letter to them by stating, “I always pray for you with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:4, 5).


            In what capacity did the Philippians serve as partners to Paul’s proclamation of the Gospel? We learn in chapter 4 that it was through financial support. This tells me that we should not diminish the important role of cheque-writing when it comes to the proclamation of the Gospel. According to Paul, giving money to support the spread of the Gospel makes us partners. That is to say that giving money does not make us spectators of evangelism, but rather, it makes us players on the field.


            Engaging in evangelism through the giving of money can also happen on the local level. I would argue that one of the best evangelistic activities run out of this church is Kingsway Adventure Camp. More than half of the children who attend, do not belong to St. Giles Kingsway. Many of these children are hearing the Gospel message for the first time.


            At the beginning of 2006, we weren’t sure how we were going to get this camp off the ground. 2005 was a difficult year financially, and there wasn’t sufficient room in the budget to finance Kingsway Adventure Camp. It is no secret how one family funded the entire week. This couple was actually away for most of the week camp was on. They did not meet with the children, nor did they proclaim the Gospel to them. But they were, in a biblical sense, partners for the Gospel. They engaged in evangelism through the giving of money.


            And thirdly, there is the language of good deeds. This language is in the spirit of Francis of Assisi, who was reported to have said, “Preach the Gospel at all times—if necessary, use words.” The idea here is that how we act, how we behave, bears powerful witness to Christ.


            Jesus said as much in His Sermon on the Mount, “Let your light shine, so that others will see your good works and will praise your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:16).


            We sometimes talk about the need for Christians to “walk the talk”. There should be no dichotomy between the walking and the talking—both are required. It is the message that is to be believed in, but the exemplary lifestyle of the one talking goes a long way to legitimize the message.


Conversely, even if the message is delivered in a sparkling fashion, it will likely be disregarded if it comes from a messenger leading a suspect lifestyle.


            Make no mistake, good deeds alone do not constitute the Good News, but deeds of mercy and kindness are an integral part of promoting the Good News message.


            Having reflected on these few texts, I hope that you are encouraged with regard to your obligation to bear witness to Jesus Christ. Your witness need not begin with verbal proclamation. There are other meaningful ways to be engaged in the work of evangelism. Through your prayers, through your financial gifts, and through your good deeds, you can meaningfully engage in evangelism.


            And yet, we must not lose site of what was said at the outset—without verbal witness the work of evangelism is incomplete. At the end of the day, after all the prayers, good deeds, and financed ministries, it is still necessary for people to tell people the message of Jesus Christ.


            At risk of providing you with a loop-hole to this principle, I want to offer you an interim step. After you have laid a foundation through your prayers and good deeds—at the very least—invite your unbelieving friend or family member to attend a function where they can hear the gospel message proclaimed by someone else, if not by you. Something as simple as inviting a friend to attend a Sunday service with you. Or maybe you knock on a neighbour’s door to encourage them to send their children to Kingsway Adventure Camp 2007.


            There are different languages for mission, and we need every one of them.


I am confident that our efforts will be rewarded in God’s time and in God’s way.


But until then, let us be diligent in the work of evangelism, because every human being is living in the presence of God’s greatness, but many have yet to realize it. Amen.