“When Everything is Missions” – The Final Review (Part VIII)

“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 last of eight posts reviewing Ellison and Spitters’ timely volume. In this post, we examine Chapter 7: “Now what”? (chapter written by Matthew Ellison and Denny Spitters)

In the first six chapters, the authors have been compelling in their assertion that, unless we extremely dilute Jesus’ Great Commission mandate, not everything can be missions, and not everyone can be a missionary. While they previously have given a few practical examples to show how wrong thinking in this area leads to negative outcomes, chapter seven is where Ellison really puts poor thinking about missions “in his crosshairs” (p. 92).

The authors jump right into Acts 1:8 and the “heresy of sequentialism” (as David Garrison refers to it). Acts 1:8 states “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

What many have done is treat Acts 1:8 as a model of outreach where we minister in concentric circles, sort of like what happens when you throw a stone into a pool of water. The thinking is that we start with those geographically closest to us and move on out from home base. So, a church leader might say, “we are on mission right here in our back yard, our Jerusalem, and when we grow more disciples here and our church is bigger, we will go to our Judea and Samaria, and someday we will go to the end of the earth” (p. 109).

We have witnessed this application of Acts 1:8 in many churches. The authors suggest that, if this were the way that verse was supposed to be interpreted all the “ands” would be replaced with “thens.” “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, then in Judea and Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth.”

There is some validity to this, but it should not be pressed too far. [Feel free to zone out with the following brief excursion into the Greek.] The Greek “te…kai…kai…kai” implies a “both…and” relationship. This construction can then be interpreted/translated as neither linking the geographical places together sequentially, nor prioritizing one over the other. [OK. Wake up. Greek lesson over.]

The “heresy” of sequentialism is basically breaking Acts 1:8 into its component parts and doing them in sequence rather than all at once. Garrison is quoted (p. 109): “You shouldn’t eat a cake… one element at a time: flour, eggs, vanilla and then baking soda. The real enjoyment occurs when every element is present in every bit. Global missions is part of God’s essential recipe for discipleship, not something you get to only in Christianity 401. It ought to be present in the first bite.”

But there is an additional reason for not taking Acts 1:8 in the normative way many evangelical churches do when they suggest that Jesus was thinking that the disciples should develop ministry within their own comfort zone at home, then and only then strategizing how to move out cross-culturally into regions like Judea, Samaria, etc.

The problem here is in equating Jerusalem with our home base and deciding that we should start with our home area and then move out from there.

Now if your church views the allusion to Jerusalem as telling congregations to start their missions efforts at home, you may be wondering, “What’s wrong with that?” Steve Hawthorne answers that question in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, p. 138, when he says: “Telling people not to leave town may seem like a strange way to launch a missionary movement. But one fact, often overlooked, will help: Jerusalem was not their home! These men were from Galilee…Jerusalem was the most dangerous place on the planet for them…No wonder Luke records that he told them to stay in Jerusalem. If he hadn’t, they might have drifted back into the comfort zone of their homes in Galilee.”

Not only was Jerusalem not home for the disciples (Galilee was), but the religious leaders were quite hostile to the disciples in Jerusalem, so much so that the disciples felt like they needed to hide.

We were a little confused by the section on Pentecost and how it related to the thrust of the chapter. Still, it had some great points. Ellison is addressing a sentiment being heard more and more frequently, that is, now that mission efforts from outside the West and North have matured, it is time to “hand off the baton to the global Church of the South and East and get out of the way.”

The authors point out that handing off the baton “implies we are no longer in the race” (p. 111). Sadly there are far too many leaders in the West who are quite happy to acquiesce by either appealing to the “we are empowering the national by pulling out” argument or the “God has brought the nations to our shores so we’ll just reach them here” argument. While this may sound great at an elder meeting, it is wrong-headed and has many unintended consequences that the authors have already addressed.

If you have been looking for some new quotes to exhort people for missions involvement, go no further than pp. 112-113 where a missionary named David Hosaflook (a name that would make Winkey Pratney proud) is quoted. It is powerful and compelling stuff that really gets your attention and prepares the reader for the antidote that the authors prescribe. The antidote, by the way, is a seven- step solution (“Foundational steps toward implementing our mission,” p. 114) that can be applied both personally and corporately.

In discussing Matthew 28:18-20, Ellison quotes David Mays (who left this world far too early and we really miss him): “The object of ‘disciple’ is ‘all nations.’ Jesus did not say to disciple, or to disciple your family, or disciple whomever happens to be near, or disciple people in your community, or disciple the people like you. He said to disciple ALL NATIONS, i.e. all peoples, all ethno-linguistic groups. ‘Make disciples’ cannot be divorced from ‘all nations.’ It is not fair, not legitimate, not biblical to claim the Great Commission for your church purpose and neglect the nations. It is to use the Scripture like a drunk uses a lamp post, for support rather than illumination” (p. 119).

As we finished this book we found an appendix chock full of great application questions. This is just the kind of book a church missions leadership team should read and discuss together. The discussion questions in this appendix would be helpful both for personal application as well as group study.

In closing, let us say that we hope that these chapter summaries/reviews have been helpful. When we started this endeavor, we did it mainly because we knew and respected the authors. As we got into the book however, we really saw that this is a book that is incredibly timely and feel that Spitters and Ellison have accurately discerned some serious missions issues confronting the church and have faced them head on. We have purchased multiple copies that we’re going to be using with key people we work with. Our guess is that there will be future orders.

So, a big “thank you” to the authors for taking the time and energy to produce this valuable additional to current missions thinking. Those who read and use it will not be disappointed.