Monday, December 31, 2012

The Eternal Difference between Missions and Charity - Mike Young

     There was a time when there was a clear difference between missions and charity work, but it seems that in recent years the line of separation has become blurred. That line that needs to be crossed in order for charity work to become mission work is the sharing of the gospel. Hardly a week goes by that I do not hear of some great project referred to as a “mission project,” only to discover that the gospel was not part of the project. Some recent ones that come to mind include providing food to the homeless, donating to a church building fund, teaching English as a foreign language, various construction projects, concerts, volunteering to work at a children’s home, and many other projects designed to help people in need.
     Did I touch on a nerve? Maybe you yourself are involved in one or more of the items in the above list. I am not saying that these things are bad, nor am I am saying that Christians should not be a part of these things. On the contrary, we most certainly should. I have and continue to be a part of several of them myself. What I am saying that is that each of these activities regardless of the good that is being done, without the gospel is only charity. 
     It does not mean that the gospel needs to be presented at every stage of the project, but it should be the primary purpose. For example, teaching English to foreigners is something that I am very involved in. I may teach someone for several weeks or even an entire semester without being able to share the gospel. This is the exact situation we have when teaching in local schools where I live. However, we make it clear that we are Christians and do not avoid spiritual conversations when the opportunity presents itself. At the end of the semester we invite students to an off campus event/celebration where a clear presentation of the gospel is made. The mistake is believing that one has to form a really strong relationship first. A strong relationship is helpful, but not necessary and if used as a prerequisite for sharing the gospel, it is easy to never feel the relationship is strong enough, eventually leading to the sharing of the gospel message being eliminated all together.
     In Jim Collins book, Good to Great, he states, “Good is the enemy of the great.” By removing the gospel message from missions, we are settling for the good with no hope of ever reaching the great. This settling for good is a mistake that has been made by many Christian workers including pastors and missionaries. To further complicate the issue we have adopted the term, “missional.” Missional is used to describe anything a Christian does outside the walls of the church, whether it has anything to do with building the kingdom of God or not. 
     I recall hearing past president of the IMB, Jerry Rankin, share a story from Africa about a project to bring clean water to a village. The project from a “social gospel” standpoint was a great success, but from a sharing the actual gospel standpoint it was a complete failure. Clean water was provided and the people are now healthier and happier, however the workers never shared the gospel. He shared, “Healthy in @#!*% doesn't count for much.” These words have stuck with me.
     A quote that many proponents of this social gospel often use is “Preach the gospel, if necessary use words.” This sounds great. It brings visions of Christians being involved in service each and every day. However, these words that are questionably credited to St. Francis of Assisi, really make no sense at all. It is impossible to share the gospel (or good news) without using words. In the book, Total Church, Tim Chester and Steve Timmis discuss this trend.
"There is a tendency in some quarters today to promote a kind of evangelism without proclamation. Acts of service are done or people are invited to experience Christian worship. But without words of explanation these are like signposts pointing nowhere, or worse still, signposts pointing to our good works. The Gospel is good news- a message to be proclaimed, a truth to be taught, a word to be spoken, and a story to be told (p. 54)."
In the tenth chapter of Romans, Paul writes: 

"14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!' "
     I encourage you to think about the mission projects you have been part of and continue to be a part of. Are they truly missions or are they charity work? Again, there is nothing wrong with charity work, but don’t make the mistake of confusing the two. If you have not tried to share your faith with others, give it a try. It gets easier the more you do it and can make an eternal difference. 
     If interested in further reading about how to share your faith, a book I would recommend is, Tell the Truth, by Will Metzger. It is a book that I read every year or two and I always gain new insight and ideas.

Mr. Mike Young is a long term missionary with the IMB currently serving in the Czech Republic.


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