Growing Edges
“The Church exists by mission as fire exists by burning.” So declared Emil Brunner, and in saying this he rightly saw that the idea of mission is at the core of the Christian faith. It is far from being something peripheral or incidental to who we are and what we are about. The Church of Jesus Christ does not have missions; its very life is mission.

And this mission is truly an astonishing phenomenon. Starting with a rag-tag band of men and women from a Middle Eastern cultural back-water, the Church has literally gone into all the world. It is popular today to talk about “world religions” but, in reality, it is more accurate to speak of “religions of the world,” for the Christian faith alone is worldwide in scope. There are two other missionary faiths—Buddhism and Islam—but neither of these has yet made serious inroads into the cultures outside of their origin. Only the followers of Jesus have penetrated every major culture group in the world.

The Call to Penetration
Jesus used numerous metaphors to describe the mission of his Church: “light,” “salt,” and “leaven” are among the most striking. On the surface these seem quite different from one another, but with a little reflection we see that they all deal with penetration. Light exists to penetrate the darkness, salt exists to penetrate the meat, leaven exists to penetrate the dough. And we exist to penetrate the world.

In this task of penetration, however, we must constantly remember what it is we are to bring to all the peoples of the world. This is not the ordinary penetration of one culture into another in which one eventually overwhelms the other. We share simply and joyfully the good news and presence of Jesus as redeemer and deliverer of all human beings and see God draw people to himself on the basis of that message. God loves all manner of human beings, and we love God by participating in this love of his for all people alike. We do this without proselytizing people for our culture where it is not necessary—and seldom is it necessary—as an expression of love of God and neighbor.

The Heavenly Treasure and the Earthen Vessel
The Apostle Paul declares that “we have this treasure in earthen vessels,” and in our mission efforts we must continually distinguish the heavenly treasure from the earthen vessel in which we carry the treasure (2 Cor. 4:6-7). The heavenly treasure is “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” The earthen vessel is our body and the culture which enshrouds it, i.e. the economic, political, social, and religious systems by which we live and function. Our task is to bring other people the treasure, not the vessel.

We hinder God’s redeeming of people by imposing our cultural vessel upon them, including much of the doctrinal and ritualistic forms by which we concretely express our apprehension of the treasure. In fact, cultural proselytizing only enslaves people all the more. Of such Jesus says, “you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourself” (Matt. 23:15). And so, rejecting all cultural imperialisms, we humbly and boldly proclaim Jesus—the Logos who is present everywhere, who overcomes the powers of darkness, and who brings release to the captives (John 1:1-14).

Peace and joy,

Richard J. Foster

Growing Together
Mission is the theme of this Perspective as you no doubt have already noticed. Now, it is crucial for us to see that Christian Mission involves both evangelism and service. The two function as inseparable twins, and together they define our work of penetration. True, in our century certain groups have tried to separate the one from the other—stressing service to the exclusion of evangelism or evangelism to the exclusion of service— but the results have been disastrous. These either/or options always lead to unhealthy and ultimately unbiblical practice. So we begin by confessing the need for both faithful service and humble witness. In fact, Mission has intrinsic grandeur precisely because it provides the only known pattern in which the inner life of devotion can be combined with the outer life of social action. So now, in this page devoted to practice, we want to consider ways of Mission which incorporate both evangelism and service.

• Finding a person in need. A simple, insightful look around us will usually lead to someone close by. Then we see what we can do to meet their needs. We do not predetermine the nature of the need. It could be physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, or perhaps a combination of all these. It doesn’t matter. At times the need is obvious and immediate: food to eat or shoes to wear. At other times the need is more internal and subtle: a listening ear or a loving acceptance. Sometimes gospel truth needs to be brought to bear upon unbelief or wrong belief. Always this is done in great humility and meekness of spirit for we know how often we are wrong and how easily we misapprehend the gospel message. Throughout we do not control the need or set the agenda. That is, in fact, the point for us. We are learning to simply and genuinely respond to the need at hand whether large or small, spiritual or physical; a simple act of service or a deep work of evangelism.

• Meeting a neighbor. The task here is to meet the neighbor. No ulterior motives. No setting the stage for evangelism. No trying to serve the poor. No nothing. We just meet them. Right where they are. Right where we are. We learn their interests, their history, their hopes, their dreams, their anxieties. We enter the discussion without particularly trying to angle it anywhere. In the process we will be immeasurably enriched by some amazing stories and unique people. And we have a story to tell too, don’t we.

• Letting the children come. It is always a gift of grace when we can give special attention to the little ones. Those who have children of their own have natural bridges to numerous other children. Others utilize after-school activities such as those sponsored by Child Evangelism Fellowship. Or athletic programs like AYSO or Little League. But even those of us who lack more natural networks can still find ways to bless the little ones. Parks and playgrounds abound with children. We can go, sit on the bench and enjoy their play, inwardly filled with prayer for them. We can greet their parents and teachers and other leaders. Even strike up a conversation with them. Without ever making a nuisance of ourselves, we can find easy, natural ways to give encouragement, friendship, and affirmation. Oh, and whenever we can—the grade school in our area, the church nursery—we will want to walk around the area, praying protection upon the children there: surrounding them with the light of Jesus Christ, covering them with his blood, and sealing them with his cross. Then, too, foster home programs, Big Brothers and Sisters, and many similar opportunities abound. These are all ways of loving, caring penetration. Just be sure you are counting the cost of these avenues of service and are not entering into obligations you cannot fulfill.

 • Using the telephone for divine purposes. Some of you cannot get out to meet others easily (or at all), or perhaps the time to do so is limited. You can still do much to penetrate your world. Here is a simple suggestion. Prayerfully bring to mind the names of people in your circle of nearness: friends, neighbors, work associates, and more. Maybe one or two names will rise to the surface of your consciousness. These you can take up as a special intention. Call then, saying that you only want to say hello and wish them a good day. They, first of all, will be astonished, so unusual is this simple gesture of friendship in our day. But, in addition, you will often discover that your call is a “divine appointment” for good into their lives. This is the joyful work of Christian Mission. Of course, E-mail and other forms of modern communication can be used in much the same way.

I have given you several suggestions. You will not want to do them all, certainly not all at once. But one idea may be just right. Or it may suggest another idea better suited to your situation. If so, I encourage you to follow your leading courteously and unpretentiously.

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