My thesis that missions has become a dirty word in the evangelical lexicon is, in my opinion, now beyond dispute. It’s perhaps time to discover a new word to articulate what God is doing in the world in making his Son famous.
Support for my thesis comes from various missiologists, but is also anecdotal. Larry Sharp writes in the Evangelical Mission Quarterly on the topic of “Why I am not a missionary” and pleads, “Please don’t introduce me as a missionary…” (Though his reasoning differs somewhat from the point I am making here, it is nevertheless appropriate to reference his observation.)
In the International Review of Mission (1987), Klauspeter Blaser asks the question, “Should we stop using the term mission?”
I also have anecdotal evidence. A couple of years ago, I was asked to speak at a missions conference at an evangelical church. My answer was, “Yes, if you do not call it a missions conference” (I was motivated by a growing conviction that nothing can kill a missions conference faster than calling it a missions conference!). We agreed to call it something else (a worship theme, as I recall) with the understanding that I would still speak on missions.
A month later the pastor of the church e-mailed me to say that he had received significant feedback after the conference that confirmed my original suspicion that using the term “missions” to describe the conference would keep people away, rather than attract them.
Yes, missions has become an abused, misunderstood, and even unpleasant word in the lexicon of the evangelical.
In addition, I have been accumulating multiple layers of biblical support for my thesis for quite awhile. And I have concluded that it is unfortunate that (a) we have to use a word not even found in the Bible as a noun substitute for the cosmic work of God to make his Son famous; and (b) the word that we have chosen cannot come close to conveying the grand nuances of God’s work in the world; and (c) this word (missions) is widely misunderstood and carries so many negative connotations for so many believers that the waters are hopelessly muddled by its use.
Perhaps the English language is too limited to contain one single word to do the job. I don’t know. But I do know that Joe Steinitz and I work across the northeast US with good evangelical churches where the word missions is bandied about with little or no comprehension of the grand scope of God’s intention to fill the whole world with his Son’s glory.
Stay tuned to www.unmissions.net for more on this topic`… — Dave Shive