I enjoy reading Christian fiction and especially those with a western theme. I did after all, grow up watching Saturday afternoon cowboy shows. One book that I recently finished was very different. It featured a country veterinarian and a troubled former police officer. One line in particular grabbed my attention. The ex-police officer, described the vet, by saying, “Trace was a missionary masquerading as a veterinarian.” (Finding Her Way Home by Linda Goodnight, Steeple Hill Books, p175) I thought, “Wow, that’s the way it’s supposed to be!”
Mission work was what Jesus was talking about when he said to the eleven, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15; ESV). We know this as the great commission. Jesus sent His disciples to make more disciples as they preached, baptized, and taught. While this was spoken to the eleven, no one seems to deny that this is not also the mission of the church today. Each one of us has some part in getting the Word of God out to those around us, by sharing the Good News.
Speaking of believers in Christ, Peter called us, “…a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.” (1 Peter 2:9; ESV). Look at what we are called to do: “proclaim”. Other translations use words like “show others, tell others, declare, show forth.” What could be clearer than that?
But what exactly is it we are to proclaim? We are to declare the excellencies of God. Other translations suggest various nuances like, “the goodness of God, the praises of God, the excellent qualities of God.” But each of these mean that we are to tell others about God, about His goodness, and His great deeds, so that all will be caused to praise and honour Him. We must speak openly of His wonderful qualities and put his character on display in the way that we live.
That line in the book – led me to wonder, “Was I a missionary disguised as an educator?” I was often approached by staff and even parents who sought help with personal issues, like “I want you to be the first to know that I have been diagnosed with MS.” “My teenage daughter ran away from home. We don’t know where she is.” “My husband is having a very difficult time dealing with our handicapped son.” And I thought, “Why me?”
Perhaps they did see God at work in my life and to some extent through my life. The one thing that I did do right was that I listened. I listened and offered words of comfort and support. And I did offer to pray for them and for their circumstances. But did I proclaim the goodness of God? Did I ever ask about their relationship with Christ Jesus? Did I even offer to open the Bible to Scriptures that may have been a comfort? I must admit that I did not. I lobbed the ball into their court by offering prayers but never got a return volley. And I just left it there. I never picked the ball up and tried a different serve. I was hardly the missionary in teacher’s clothing.
I’ve often asked myself why I never offered more. I can come up with lots of excuses. I’m pretty good at that. “They never showed an interest.” “I’m not very good expressing myself verbally.” “I was young and inexperienced.” “It was in a secular workplace.” I could go on, but you get the picture. Really, I think that I never truly absorbed Mark 16:15.
Some of us get the “Go into” part wrong. We want to insert “Invite” instead. Invite them to worship with us and I’ve done my part. The preacher can take over from there. Inviting is good. Do not stop doing that. Paul suggested in 1 Corinthians 14:24 that it was possible “if some unbelieving outsiders walk in on a service,” (MSG) that they could be convicted of their sins. Yet that was not the purpose of the assembly. The chapters found there in 1 Corinthians were talking about the proper use of one’s gifts to build up the church. In reality, Sunday worship time is for believers; for those of us who are already Christians. We come together to praise God , to remember Christ’s sacrifice and to be encouraged and strengthened by one another.
Evangelism, in the form of teaching and spreading the Good News occurs outside of the church building’s walls. Jesus said “Go.”
But I was already there, with unbelievers all around. What I missed out on was the “proclaim the gospel” part. In my mind, it sounded too hard. What was I to say? How was I to say it? What if I got it wrong? Goodness! What if they asked a question I could not answer? Does that sound familiar?
It took a sweet Polish lady in our congregation to show me how easy it is. She did not have much education. She learned to read and write English from her children but she could work God into almost every conversation. Someone admiring her flowers would be reminded of God’s beautiful creation. Someone commenting on her home, health or family would be told how God had blessed her. She was eager to invite people into her home, to church activities and to worship. But she was just as eager to share how she searched before becoming a Christian. If someone had a question, she knew to whom she could direct them. We can do that too. It is easy.
There was a good Biblical reason for what she did. It is found in Matthew 22:37-39, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ (NIV, 1984). This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.” She loved God and she loved people. I have seen her weep for a person who rejected any mention of God. She cared that much for that individual’s soul. That to me is the crux of matter. Why don’t I try to work God into my conversations? Why am I hesitant to tell my story; to mention my blessings and my relationship with God? If I’m honest, I have to say I’m concerned about my soul but am I always concerned as much as I should be about other souls? Self-examination is a good thing!
I have written this with a great deal of introspection. I can see my spiritual growth through the years, the growing concern for the lost, and my increased ability to speak of God more freely. It has taken a good deal of time and I still have a ways to go. I hope you read this with the same mindset with which it was written.
Are you a missionary masquerading as a __________?
Give it a try!