When I was a young Christian, I was convinced God was going to send me to Africa. I’m not sure why. I think it had something to do with viewing missionaries as a model of what a “real” Christian looked like, and feeling guilty that I wasn’t that sold out for Jesus. And for some reason Africa – not a country in Africa, mind you, just the whole continent of Africa – was the place God sent reluctant missionaries like me. Usefulness to God = moving to Africa. It’s not a very mature or intelligent formula, but I was convinced that’s the way God worked.
Hopefully you’re more mature than I was in my early years. But I think a more subtle version of my “usefulness = Africa” equation can lurk in our thinking. It goes something like this: my life is very ordinary. I don’t preach on street corners, do door-to-door evangelism, or have a full-time ministry job. So I’m basically irrelevant to the kingdom of God. Really being sold out for Jesus would look like______ (fill in your version of Africa). Our life doesn’t look like what we imagine the model for “real” Christianity looks like, and so we make usefulness equal to “some other lifestyle besides mine.” We feel like we’re sitting on the sidelines, watching the first-stringers play in a game we’ll never participate in.
Now before I go on, let me be clear: foreign missions are a vital part of the mission God has given to His people. I want to see many, many called and qualified people going overseas with the gospel. The nations need to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. What I’m after is the idea that only foreign missionaries (or full-time vocational ministers) are serving God.
Let’s do an experiment. Take out your phone. (Go on, do it.) Look at your address book or contact list. Begin at the top and scroll down. How long does it take before you reach a name of someone who doesn’t know Jesus? And if you keep going, how many non-Christians would you find in your list? You could do the same thing with a day or two of emails in your “Sent” folder. Whether the people are from your neighborhood, your job, your gym, or your pick-up basketball game, I’m willing to bet you have non-Christian contacts. And the people whose names you just looked at are your mission field.
My mistake as a young Christian was to believe that God would only be involved in major life decisions like relocating to another continent but absent from the “smaller” decisions (which are really just as significant): where I went to school, what job I had, who my friends were. The truth is God is providentially involved in every part of our lives. Where he has placed you, right now, in the job or neighborhood you’re in at this moment, is the perfect place for you to bear fruit for him. Ask God to open your eyes to see who he’s placed in your path to love and reach out to with the gospel. For most of us (though not all of us!) our mission field isn’t in a foreign country. It’s the family that just moved in across the street, the new co-worker in the office across the hall.
Serving God in your mission field is not complicated. It’s not easy, either! But it’s not complicated. Love the people God has placed in your path. Gospel love moves towards people. It moves in a thousand different ways: a meal, an invitation to a football game, practical help with a need. But love always moves.
So don’t feel like you’re sitting on the sidelines if you’re not overseas or doing something that appears hard-core-sold-out for Jesus. Serve him where you’re at by loving the people he’s placed in your life. If we will lift up our eyes, the gospel fields are ripe for the harvest!
Photo by Sudhamshu