“And the word became flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14).
What is the most effective approach to missions? Some suggest turning to the world of business and advertising. There is much that the church can learn, here, but ultimately the Gospel is not a commodity. It isn’t something that we “sell” in exchange for currency. Other models are more confrontational and suggest asking prospective converts a question: “do you know where you’d go if you died tonight?” While this might work, on rare occasion, it attempts to slam someone with a question of eternal consequences before the evangelists shows an interest in the person they are speaking to. Why not approach the person with a simple question? Why not ask them about their day, their family, and what they do for a living? If we start there—by “entering” into someone’s world—we get a bit closer to the Biblical paradigm for missions.
What is the Biblical foundation of mission? It’s not the doctrine of the church. The Biblical foundation for mission is founded upon the doctrine of God. We have a God who ultimately “sends” His Son into our world to complete the most important mission in history—to redeem humanity. He sends the Apostles, in turn, who engage a world for the same reason that Jesus was sent… because “God so loves the world…” (John 3:16).
When God sent Jesus to the world, he could have “zapped” the Son into Jerusalem as a full-grown adult and set him about his mission to preach about the Kingdom of God, be rejected, suffer and die. Instead, God sent his son into the world through the means that we all enter into the world—through childbirth. He experienced the life we live and spent the majority of his life obeying his parents, observing the world, and listening rather than preaching. Only then was Jesus prepared to proclaim the Kingdom of God.
While I don’t have any Scriptural passages to back this up, I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to suggest that one of the reasons why Jesus spent so much of his life listening rather than preaching was because he valued the lives of the people he had come to save. The ear is a more loving organ than the tongue. While we can tell people that we love them, we demonstrate our love by listening to them.
God led his mission to save us with love. God already knew us—but by sending His son into our lives, into a human situation—he demonstrated and showed us how he desires to know us. The biggest problem with most mission programs and strategies is that they do not lead with relationship. If Jesus had simply zapped into Jerusalem, preached a few messages, and died he would have not have built a relationship with his disciples who would later become the first evangelists. Mission always begins with relationship—that’s how God did it, so we should, too.