Mission field is local and foreign

By Stan Self

During a recent Mission Society Global Outreach Weekend, a young woman observed that the presentation seemed to be as much about missions as evangelism. The instructor responded by telling her that in this training missions and evangelism were not separated given that all outreach should contain the element of evangelism. The young woman then said that she was afraid of that because evangelism scared her to death.From the number of knowing nods by the others in attendance, it was obvious that many agreed.

This simple exchange highlights a persistent problem that stymies outreach at the local level. When Jesus said “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem” (Acts 1:8), he was indicating that the mission field was as much local as it was foreign. However, we do not typically view it as such. Although we believers will readily and rightly engage in local mercy and compassionate activities, too often we avoid or refuse to include in our outreach efforts an overt declaration of the gospel to nonbelievers. Until now the church has been able to get by with a rather passive approach to outreach at home.Yet the rapidly changing demographic makeup of the United States necessitates a change in our approach to missions locally.

So how do we move evangelism out of the realm of anxiety and into the realm of assurance? As a start, we need to change the way we think.

• We need to think process, not event. Although we desire to see everyone come to the place where they invite Christ into their lives, that rarely happens after having only one encounter with the gospel. For most, it is a series of “God encounters” that leads to a point of acceptance. Sometimes we may be the first to introduce Jesus to someone. More often we may be one of many along the continuum.

• We need to think experience, not knowledge. Many Christians think they have to have extraordinary knowledge of the Bible, so they can recall specific verses as they share their faith. Others feel as if they have to know some formula or have a specific tool to be an effective witness. While these can be useful, in truth, if you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you have the most powerful tool available.You have your story, and nobody knows and can tell your story like you. At the very heart of witnessing is relationship. When you combine relationships with non-believers and your personal experiences with Jesus Christ, you are witnessing. You are engaged in, dare I say it, evangelism.

• We need to think common, not special. Sometimes Christians are reluctant to talk about their experience because their story lacks the spectacular. We are thrilled with those Damascus Road stories where people were saved from a life of depravity or disaster. The fact is that God is at work in the ordinary, the routine, and the everyday things in life. If we would be more observant, we would see His presence at work, and that would form a basis for relating the love of Christ to a variety of people in a variety of situations.

• We need to think presence, not plan. Every day we are presented with multiple opportunities to witness. We do not need a plan or program. Chance encounters with a store clerk, a repair tech, or a neighbor can be an occasion for praying for someone, speaking a word of truth, or sharing your verse of the day.As we seize more and more of these life encounters we will soon find that evangelism comes as natural as discussing the weather, our family, work, or any of the other things we eagerly talk about.

If we examine the life of Jesus, we see a model for encountering people in the everyday course of life. Scripture does not conceive a Jesus that was not out among people declaring the good news of the kingdom of God (Luke 4:43). Nor does Scripture conceive of a believer that is not out among people declaring the good news of the kingdom of God (Acts 1:8).

Stan Self is The Mission Society’s senior director for church ministry.