“When Everything is Missions”
by Matthew Ellison and Denny Spitters
Copyright 2017 Pioneers-USA & Sixteen:Fifteen
(A review by Dave Shive and Joe Steinitz)
This is the fourth of eight posts that will examine the ideas and analysis found in Ellison and Spitters timely volume. In this fourth post, we examine Chapter 3: “Why are we Involved in Missions?” (this chapter written by Matthew Ellison)
Building his argument around five main points, Matthew does an excellent job of answering the question posed in the chapter title. His argument centers on the five assertions and then culminates with a restatement of the chapter’s purpose by asking the question: “Do these five foundational motives for missions offer any clues about what to prioritize and how to pursue a global outreach effort?” (p. 63)
Though at first glance it may not be completely clear to the reader what role this chapter plays in a book titled “When Everything is Missions,” after carefully analysis we realized that the church is in need of consistent reminders of the reason and motive for doing missions. We imagined Ellison pondering the thoughts of an imaginary senior pastor who is thinking to himself, “All I have to do is be faithful and make disciples in my own congregation.” If Matthew is writing for that senior pastor (and for others who think similar thoughts), then we need this chapter. Obviously he is writing for all of us who long to follow Jesus.
Let’s take the five motives one by one:
1. “Why are we involved in Missions?” Because God’s heart beats for the nations.
Here Matthew does a fine review of the biblical texts that highlight Jesus’ Great Commission. We especially like his observation that the Luke 24 conversation with the disciples actually draws from the Law and the Prophets. Here Ellison wraps OT missiology into Jesus’ commissioning as a reminder that the threads of mission are in both testaments. Though we might prefer that he (and Spitters) avoid reliance on the disputed Mark 16:15 passage, the church needs a constant reminder that beckons us back to God’s motivations and passions.
2. “Why are we involved in Missions?” Because salvation is found only in Jesus.
Though this idea is central to a biblical missiology and considered by classical Christian theology and history to be too important to overlook, the uniqueness and centrality of Jesus is all too often misunderstood in our pluralistic society. Ellison admits to being concerned that so many evangelicals argue vigorously for the reality of hell and for salvation only through Christ while seeming “to pay so little attention to the unreached who sit in darkness and under the shadow of death” (p. 53). This first point highlights a crucial matter that demonstrates the integration of theology with missiology.
For further reading on the relevance to missiology of Ellison’s concern, note the useful articles in the “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement” text by Charles Van Engen, (“The Uniqueness of Christ,” ch. 30, p. 176-182) and Ajith Fernando (“The Supremacy of Christ,” ch. 31, p. 183-192). Also in Christopher Wright’s “The Mission of God,” ch. 4 (p. 105-135) is titled “The Living God Makes Himself Known in Jesus Christ.” There is a world of material available to the budding missiologist to buttress Ellison’s second reason as to why we should be involved in missions.
3. “Why are we involved in Missions?” Because our churches can’t afford not to do missions.
To argue this point, Ellison gives a case study of a Michigan church that became dynamically involved in Senegal (pp. 54-56). This is one of the highlights of this chapter as it gives a practical window into how a local church can get radically engaged in reaching out cross-culturally. Matthew makes a compelling case as to how sending missionaries (from Michigan to Senegal, in Ellison’s example) has greatly benefitted the local ministry in which the church was already engaged in Detroit.
We agree with Ellison when he says: “I believe that some of the sweetest and most profound joy available to God’s children this side of heaven comes when we sacrificially participate in His mission to make disciples of all nations. Missions brings life to the nations. Missions brings life to the church.” (p. 56) To which we say “Amen!”
4. “Why are we involved in Missions?” Because we are called to know God and make Him known.
Here Matthew expands on Isa. 6:1-8, a text we have both heard him preach. He states that Isa. 6 is “…one of the most significant mission passages in all of Scripture” (p. 57). We can attest that this is Ellison’s heartbeat.
Arguing that “…we do not commend what we do not cherish…” (p. 59), Matthew (using helpful quotes from Tozer’s “Men Who Met God”) challenges the reader to pursue a true encounter with God. Missions must always start with God and progress to the people of God who are jealous for God’s glory if a “healthy missionary zeal” is to be achieved.
For further reading on this vital theme, we recommend (in the “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement”) Steve Hawthorne’s “”The Story of His Glory” (ch.8, p. 49-63). Hawthorne argues that we need to “deepen our motive base to “a love for God’s glory,” and to “define the task as expanding God’s glory” (p.63).
Also, in the same text, Tim Dearborn’s “Beyond Duty” (ch. 10, p. 70-73) goes for the jugular when he makes the case that focusing on obedience to the Great Commission is the wrong starting point as it locks us into a human-centered perspective (70). His insightful quote clearly underscores the point Ellison is making here: “It is insufficient to proclaim that the Church of God has a mission in the world. Rather, the God of mission has a Church in the world” (p. 70; echoed by Wright in “The Mission of God,” p. 62). If we are to develop a vigorous, biblical missional ethos, the Church must begin with our love and worship of the Lord.
5. “Why are we involved in Missions?” Because the Lamb deserves His reward.
Any reader who has been around missions for very long will recognize the source of this fifth motive for doing missions as coming from the ethos of the 18th century Moravian missions movement founded by Count Zinzendorf. As their first missionaries departed for far off places, their cry drifted from their ship back to shore: “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward for His suffering!” Ellison does a great job of telling of the central role that the worship of Christ played in launching one of the most phenomenal missions movements in church history.
This Moravian slogan welcomes the church of the 21st century back to its historical 18th century missiological roots. What difference would it make to the American church today if our motives focused on “the Lamb getting the reward he deserves”?
A valuable contribution to this fifth motive is Matthew’s sharing his own personal experience with the uneaten portion of the communion elements in a Mexican church. The Mexican pastor used the remnants of the communion service to passionately illustrate to his congregation the reality of unreached peoples who have yet to eat from this table.
Chapter three is an extremely valuable contribution to the tools available to help churches get on track in missions. Every church missions committee chairperson would benefit by using these five points to remind the team about the committee’s (and the Church’s) raison d’etre.