Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been a lover of all things related to missions. Peering into the window of missionary life was perhaps one of the first things I remember of my childhood that completely fascinated me- while regular weekly sermons may have been boring to sit through, never once was I anything other that completely engaged when a foreign missionary came to speak. The world of missions for me came to embrace the best of everything that makes my heart tick: Jesus, theology, other people, travel, and experiencing different cultures. It is certainly no surprise that all these years later, this precise area of theology is what I would get my doctorate in. I love missions.
When one is studying missions for the purpose of being a practitioner in the field, one of the first things a person must decide is what “people group” God is calling them to. Determining a people group is crucially important because this will determine the course of the rest of one’s studies and preparations for becoming a missionary. A missionary can’t simply show up in the field one day and expect to be successful– one must first learn and study everything about the “people group” and culture they are called to, first. This process can actually take years for some, because it would also include difficult aspects such as language fluency and the like. However, when one is done with the hard preparation, they’re usually sent off with some bare essentials to begin learning a new culture and finding ways to inject the teachings of Jesus into that culture.
When talking with missionaries, I’ve often found them describing their particular calling in one of two ways: often they’ll either say, “God caused me to fall in love with this culture/people group” or, “God just really broke my heart for this culture/people group.” With the latter description, the missionary has often noticed something desperately broken in a particular culture that screams out the need for the teachings of Jesus, and the need becomes so glaringly obvious that it almost becomes gut-wrenching to look at those needs without doing something about it.
Lately I’ve been having one of those moments in life where my heart is broken and grieved over a people group who desperately need to hear the message of Jesus, in order that it might change their hearts and culture. It is a people group we have historically failed to send missionaries to, we have neglected, and through nominal encounters with Jesus, they have grown to feel inoculated- falsely believing they are no longer in need of the one who alone can radically reshape and renew us.
The kind of missionary the world most desperately needs are missionaries who are sent to introduce the message of Jesus to one of the last unreached people groups: Americanized Christians.
Christianity in so many parts of America has been blended together with American, nationalistic culture to the point that the Jesus many believe they are following is just a false American caricature of the real thing. In many ways, the tradition of Jesus has become a civil religion that is able to exist in complete harmony with American ideals instead of being something that was designed to turn culture on its head– showing those within culture a totally different way of living and being.
This week my heart feels particularly broken for this obviously unreached people group. Case in point: I issued a call to love our Muslim neighbors in our communities– loving neighbors being what Jesus called the second greatest commandment– and it was met with outright hostility, and even calls for acts of violence against Muslims. One Christian minister said that telling people to love their Muslim neighbors was a “slap in the face” and that we should do no such thing. Others said it is impossible to exist with Muslim neighbors. And, even some “Christians” said that the only approach to Muslims is to kill them before they kill us.
Or, there’s the response I get when I suggest that we should actually love our enemies (a core aspect of the message and life of Jesus): outright disgust, and immediately objections that surely, Jesus didn’t really mean that.
Better yet, there’s the times when I suggest that Jesus invites us to give our loyalty to God’s Kingdom instead of earthly nations, and the Christian response is quite predictable. “Go somewhere else” I’m often told, or as one internet commenter said recently, I’d do better to just “shut my mouth and pay homage to our soldiers.”
Day in and day out, I am faced with the heartbreaking reality that perhaps the last unreached people group has been sitting right in our very pews– those who have succumbed to an Americanized, civil religion, that is only loosely based on Jesus.
And so, the kind of missionary the world most desperately needs is the missionary who is dedicated to introducing American Christians to the message of Jesus.
It is a beautiful message.
A counter-cultural message.
A message of hope, transformation, and healing.
But, it is also a costly message- one that invites us to deny ourselves, and to follow in the footsteps of one who willingly died for his enemies.
And this message is precisely the one this last, unreached people group, desperately need to hear.
I hope you’ll join me– right from where you are– in becoming a missionary dedicated to evangelizing Americanized Christians with the radical, countercultural message of Jesus– because that’s the kind of missionary the world most desperately needs.