Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My take on the DG national conference: The difference between evangelism and missions

I wasn't able to get to Minnesota last month for the Desiring God national conference, Finish the Mission, so I did the next best thing and downloaded all the talks. And while I certainly enjoyed them, I was struck by one continual note that was just a bit off key throughout the conference. Although the conference was meant to highlight the "task remaining" in world evangelization, there was a continual blurring of the lines between evangelism and missions. The evangelistic mandate is the call for the local church to preach the gospel to all those in the surrounding culture/vicinity who are not yet saved. The missions mandate is the call for apostolic teams (Greek: apostolos = sent ones) to carry the gospel beyond into cultures and vicinities where there are no local churches to evangelize a given people group.  Both are equally important in Scripture, but they are grossly misunderstood.   John Piper is actually one of the voices within evangelicalism that has consistently gotten the distinction right; and this is perhaps why I was a bit disappointed to hear speakers at his conference such as Ed Stetzer saying that he disagreed with Michael Oh when he referred to Japan as the "mission field" - contending that the USA is an equally valid mission field.  Sure Ed, God loves lost people in America just as much as he does those in Japan, but that's not the point!  The point is, don't blur the lines between evangelism and missions by making it seem as though there isn't a different calling (a different job to be done) in reaching the USA and Japan.  In the former, our role is to help local churches evangelize their own neighbors, while in the latter, our job is to start local churches that don't even exist yet, so they can evangelize their own.   That's the difference, and it's an important one.  If we call everything missions, then nothing is missions!

Here is another way to see the difference, using another of the conference speakers' own ministries: When Michael Ramsden speaks to a  group of secular university students in London, that would be evangelism.  But when he speaks to a group of Muslim students in Southeast Asia, that would be missions.  The reason is that the secular students in London could walk into any church on Sunday if they chose to, and hear the Gospel.  So they are lost, but not unreached.  But the Muslim students have no church to walk into in their city, even if they wanted to, so they too are lost, but they are also unreached.  Missions then, is what it means to take the Gospel to the unreached so that a local church can emerge in their city, whereby they can hear the Gospel from their own people some day.  The issue at hand is access to the Gospel - unsaved people in reached people groups have it, while unsaved people in unreached people groups do not!

I hope this brief post doesn't come across leaving folks feeling as though I did not thoroughly enjoy what each speaker brought at the DG national conference.  To the contrary, I did enjoy every talk.  However, I felt it was imperative that I take a minute to voice this one concern.

For more on this crucial distinction, have a look at this excellent post by Dr. Tim Tennent:
There is a big difference between evangelism and missions.

1 comment:

AT said...

When Piper introduced Stetzer he commented on why he invited him to speak - partly for his great work with Lifeway Research, but also to help to take back the concept of "missional-living." But you're right that it didn't really fit in with the overall theme.
Caring for the lost near you should lead caring about those far away - if one is also reading their bible. Todd Ahern from Traveling Team just spoke in New Hampshire and said that the theme of God's heart for the nations *only* appears 1600 times in the scriptures! Love that guy.