Mission looks different for everyone.
The Oxford Dictionary online has these as definitions (plus a few others but along the same lines):
The vocation or calling of a religious organisation, especially a Christian one, to go out into the world and spread its faith…
An important assignment carried out for political, religious, or commercial purposes, typically involving travel…
But it’s so much more than that, yes a call to evangelise but that is just a part of it. And that’s why it looks so different to different people. Years ago it meant getting on a boat (or plane if you were lucky) and heading off to some far flung corner of the world to meet people who has truly never heard the Gospel and probably in fear of your life. These days, that does still happen but more and more we are realising the need to reach people on our own doorsteps.
Probably the most used word in circles of mission in recent years is ‘incarnational’. Doing mission incarnation ally – being with people, getting alongside them, not parachuting in doing something and then leaving. After all that’s what early missionaries did, they went to those far flung places and tried to become part of the communities they were reaching. It’s not really new at all, it’s just trying to find a way to do that on our own turf!
But actually perhaps the modern church has learned a thing or two from those who have travelled with the Gospel. When you are part of a community you see people from that community every day. And it is those encounters that enable you to begin to understand the people you are reaching out to, the things that are important to them and to the community as a whole.
I live in a small village in Sussex, UK. When we moved here 10 years ago we had 2 very small children and one at school and it was largely through them that we came to know the community. Despite being in the area for years we didn’t know this village at all, we had no friends here, no idea what it was like. But through meeting other parents at the nursery pick up or at the school gate we began to make friends and not just that, but we began to recognise the landscape of this village, both physically and metaphorically. We began to understand friendship groupings, local issues (like the decades old debate about “the new village hall”!) and where people gathered (the local pub or the park, occassioanlly the church). By contrast I know that those who live outside of the village and bring their kids in to school find that very hard. Even after years of attending the village school and being present at village events they are still seen as ‘outsiders’ to some extent. Whatever you try to do if you truly want to reach a community or people group, you need to become part of it.
Vincent Donovan was a missionary who went out to the Masai in Africa to share the Gospel. In his book ‘Christianity Rediscovered’ he recounts not just his story but the way in which he found he had to re-evaluate how to ‘do evangelism’ in a culture in which so many biblical references and the context in which it is set made no sense whatsoever. He needed to reframe scripture in a way in which they could understand. It’s a fascinating book and I highly recommend it. But the point is that actually we all need to do this. Even when you come from the same general background, the gospel message is actually alien to so many – it’s about getting something for nothing essentially and I can’t think of a single group of people where there doesn’t provoke suspicion!
So wherever you are, whatever community God has placed you in or is sending you to, embrace it! Be part of it and see how he has you reframe his word.