In my (long) lifetime I have watched the emergence of annual missions conferences in church communities as a significant point in a community’s calendar. It was good and exciting to bring in an array of folk who were doing fruitful work in exotic places, and among those who had never heard the gospel, and to hear their stories. Nothing wrong with that. Thank God for faithful missioners.

But then I became close friends with several folk who totally converted me into seeing missions from a much more immediate perspective … like in the daily lives and workplace of all of God’s people. Advocates of this perspective such Bob Slocum, Howard Blake, and Pete Hammond all became my friends. Howard even arranged a pilgrimage in which a number of us were guests of the Vatican to be in dialogue with members of the Curia about the work of Vatican II on implementing the ministry of the laity. Then Pete Hammond, in evaluating the large Urbana Missionary Convention of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, noted that of the many thousands of young men and women who attended these conventions, only a very small percentage committed themselves to overseas mission … while the rest (as Pete put it) returned to one the major mission fields in the world, namely, the North American workplace, yet feeling a bit guilty that they were not going overseas.

With that in mind he put together some Marketplace Ministry consultations to engage folk who had a vision for their presence in the workplace as God’s place of mission for them with older mentors who could assist them in this journey. The enthusiasm went off the chart.

Meanwhile, here comes Lesslie Newbigin back from a lifetime of work as a missionary in south India, to find that it was much more difficult to preach the gospel in Manchester, England, than it was in south India, and so initiated conversations on the missional dimension of each congregation. God’s people spend only a couple of hours a week as the church gathered, but they spend over 150 hours as the church scattered. How does the church equip them for those 150 hours and how is it that those hours the scene of each believer’s missionary incarnation?

Such radical rethinking of the the missional essence of the church can be somewhat at odds with the church providing an annual missionary conference to entertain the folk with the missionary obedience of someone else. Call if vicarious missionary obedience, if you will. Give a few bucks to support a good brother or sister in Bangladesh and assume that I have obeyed my missionary calling.

OK, but what those who study missions now understand is that North America, along with Europe and Great Britain are some of the most unreached mission fields in the world, they are post-Christian. That means that every one of us lives in an unreached missionary context. The real people and the social-cultural-economic-ethical realities of each of our lives is where God places us in the mission of God. This makes my daily presence important. Whether I drive a UPS truck, or am a skilled neurosurgeon, or a clerk in a huge organization, or wherever … there you and I are to be children of light, contagious sons and daughters of our Redeemer God, commissioned by our baptism to be his agents of the Great Commission.

This makes our neighborhood and our workplace sacred. Missionary conferences are only valid if they assist you and me in this calling … otherwise they are a liability.

We are all to be disciple-makers. If we are not … then the church itself becomes the mission field!


About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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