Often times when churches highlight mission work we do so by speaking of people who sold everything to go and serve others on the other side of the world. We speak of people who leave jobs with six-figure salaries to go to Africa and open orphanages for children who lost their parents due to the AIDs epidemic or spread of the Ebola virus. Preachers stand in the pulpit and talk about these missionaries embracing Christ’s command to “come, follow me” (Mark 1.17, NIV). These people who have sold everything to share the love of Christ for the world have done what the “Rich Young Ruler” was unable to.
Stories like these make for great motivation to give to churches who support missionaries working overseas as well as encourage others who might consider doing so to do so (I bet they’re helpful during stewardship campaigns too). However, statistics are showing that the number of people going and doing is dwindling, similar to the decline many mainline denominations are seeing today. Examples of people who sell it all and go are great motivators but for congregations made up primarily of people who will not go not because they do not want to, but because that’s not where they are called to serve, the bar for what it means to be a missionary is set with expectations that are hard to meet and can be intimidating.
Yes, Jesus did call the disciples to go and follow him (Mark 1.17) but there is another instance where someone was told by Christ to stay. The story of a the man who had once been troubled by demons serves as an example of someone who was called to stay. This man who had once been possessed was told to tell his “own people” what “the Lord has done” for him (Mark 5.19). Jesus’ sending of this man was not to sell all of his possessions or to drop what he was doing and follow him. Rather Christ’s sending for this healed man was to stay right where he was and share the Good News of how God had healed him.
The reading of this story of the healed man is a way for us to re-think the ways those who work in student ministry settings describe Christian mission.
While short-term mission trips are great (they do good work and necessary work) they are often the only exposure to the Christian vocation of mission that many students are exposed to. These trips are seen as necessary for college applications, scholarships, and criteria for the National Honor Society. But when the responsibility of Christian mission is reframed as a staying-sending instead of a going-sending, the tables are flipped for students. It is hard for teenagers to imagine selling everything leaving.
Maybe for some of them leaving their families and going to the other side of of the world sounds great but it is not a realistic approach to mission for those who are still struggling with Algebra II and learning to drive.
Framing Christian mission as a staying-sending allows students to begin to engage in their communities and peer groups in the same way missionaries around the world are engaging their mission fields. Instead of an orphanage in South Sudan the mission field is now the soccer field at Great Bridge High School. Instead of house-churches in China the mission field is now their friends house on an afternoon where their best friend just found out their parents are getting a divorce. The mission field becomes local, personal, and empowering.
For more on this I encourage you to read ‘Sentness’ by Kim Hammond.