I appreciate the ministry of Tim Challies. He was the pioneer of Christian blogging and has helped many believers think more clearly about issues of church and culture. On more than one occasion, I have sent friends and church members to his site for book reviews or helpful articles. Beyond that, Tim and I share very similar theology. Reformed and baptistic, we could easily serve in the same church.
But recently, I think my brother and others like him are headed in the wrong direction. Let me be clear that the disagreement I see is one of degree not substance. Thus, this post is meant to be offered as friendly push-back, not open criticism.
Specifically, I’m thinking of his recent post, “When Jesus Says Stay.” Tim’s post is a devotional commentary on Mark 5, which recounts a man who is possessed by demons and lives in a graveyard. Jesus famously heals the man of his demonic affliction. But when the man is thankful and commits to go with Jesus, he’s told that it is better for him to stay and bear witness to his community. Tim does a great job of explaining why this was a good thing. And I agree with him. But in the final paragraph he abruptly applies the text and ends the post with these words:
Christian, God has appointed you to be his missionary right where you are. There is no one better suited to the task. “Go home to your friends, your family, your neighbors, your colleagues, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”
Again, there is a large part of this that is true and helpful. But there are a couple of things that I find unhelpful, even wrong, about this post.
First, how can Tim know what the Lord has called me to do in this area? Generally, it is true that Christ has called all of his people to do many things, even share the gospel with neighbors and community. But that doesn’t mean that’s all I’m called to do. Maybe like Paul, many of the apostles, and tens of thousands of believers throughout Church history, God is calling me to share the gospel in my community but to also move my community. Maybe God is calling me to leave behind family and friends, safety and security in order to go to a community where his Son has never been named and speak of him there. Surely, Tim would not deny that such a call exists. But he is so quick to have Christians witness where they are, he practically negates such a calling. In fact, no exception is made at all for global mission in this article. Sometimes even a little nuance is necessary, and I think Tim missed it here.
In fact, I think he missed because the great need of the day is for more people to embrace a global vision, move communities, and go where Christ has not been named. Why? Because just as Christ calls us to be faithful wherever we live, he’s also called us to go to the nations, taking the gospel to every tribe, language, people, and nation (Matt 28:18-20; Rev 7:9-13). And we are not doing it. Yes, there is a revival of sorts when it comes to global missions and I praise God for it! But we simply aren’t doing enough. Consider at my own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. We are one of the largest mission sending groups in the US, yet we send less than 1% of our church members into the global mission field. Even among those who stay, less and less is being given to financially support those who are going. Let me again be clear: I do not believe that everyone is called to cross-cultural missions; the kind of thing we typically think of and has been traditionally defined as “being a missionary.” But surely this lack of zeal for the nations cannot be God’s will? How can it be his will for so many of our financial and ministry resources to be kept from the neediest areas of the world? How can it be his calling for so many to stay and so little to go, to the the neglect of his global mission?
I love my brother Tim and others like him right now who are calling for faithfulness at home in the “ordinary” Christian life. But from my view, we need more calls for a radical response to the gospel. That radical response of devoted study of Scripture, prayer that strives after God, serious killing of sin, sacrificial giving, costly and committed community through the local church, grace-fueled holiness, and fearless evangelism might be done as we work a 9-5 job, raise a family, and stay in the same city all our lives. But such a life is far from “ordinary” considering how few actually live this way. Moreover, given the huge task that we know to be God’s will–namely, the reaching of every people group with the gospel–surely Jesus is calling more to go but they are hearing stay? Perhaps in our selfishness and lazy assumptions, we are looking for excused not to go? Whatever the reasons, it seems to me that with the enormous task that we are called to complete, perhaps we should be looking more at Paul then the healed man as our example (Rom 15:20). At the very least, we should be first asking, “Am I called to stay?” before we ask, “Am I called to go?”