This month, as we move into our new location in downtown Norman (110 S Crawford Ave), we asked 4 of our covenant members to write on how they have grown in 1 of the 4 core gospel identities since becoming a member of Providence Road. Cliff Hughes, a member with his wife, Nichole, and their 4 children, considers what it means for Providence Road members to be missional in Norman, Oklahoma.
How would you answer this question: “Are you an evangelist or a missionary?” Maybe you wouldn’t consider yourself an evangelist since that word conjures up images of a professional preacher on television, shouting loudly, telling the world to repent of their sin or else. Maybe you wouldn’t consider yourself a missionary because in your mind, a missionary is someone who has left hearth and home behind to go share the gospel in a foreign country. So which idea is right?
First off, it always helps to define our terms or else the meaning may be lost in translation. Words carry meaning…always. Sometimes the meaning is intended, sometimes unintended. Like the word “evangelist,” for example. If Billy Graham pops into your mind when you hear that word, then you may be hesitant to call yourself an evangelist. But what is an evangelist? The word “evangelist” comes from the root word “evangel” which means to bring good news. In the context of the Bible, that good news is the good news of Jesus Christ. This means that every Christian is an “evangelist.” We are all called to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the unbelievers around us (Matthew 28:19-20).
No Christian is exempt from this calling on his or her life. Are you a parent? Then your unbelieving children need to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. You are responsible to “bring them” this good news. Do it often, in many different contexts. As you are sitting or walking, coming or going. Driving to school or t-ball or ballet. Tucking them in at night. Bring them the good news.
Do you work with lost people? Go to class with lost people? Play basketball with lost people? Bring them the good news of Jesus Christ. Winsomely. Compassionately. Like Jesus did (John 4). Ask good questions. Listen to their story. Connect with them as a person. Invite them to lunch, to a football game, or the movies. But bring them the good news.
This fall I coached my sons’ flag football team. Most of the boys on the team were friends of ours from school and come from Christian families. We ended up with one player who we did not know and was randomly (providentially) put on our team. Throughout the season, Nichole and I got to know this boy, his mom, and his stepdad. At the end of the season, this boy’s stepdad volunteered to help me coach the same group of boys in the upcoming youth basketball season.
Nichole and I are aware of the eternal implications of this relationship with this boy and his family. We hope to have them in our home soon. Maybe one day they’ll join our Missional Community. Maybe you’ll get to meet them at a worship service. If they do not belong to Jesus, we hope to share with them the good news of Jesus Christ so that they too may repent and believe. Please pray that we will be faithful to bring the good news to this family.
The word “missional” has become increasingly popular in our Christian culture. I think this is good, with some caveats. The good aspect of being missional is that it reminds us to not neglect the physical suffering of the world around us. We should be about meeting real needs: hunger, poverty, addiction, abandoned children. The list is extensive. Jesus cares about these things, and so should we.
I like that “missional” reminds us of this. But, if at any point we leave “evangelism” out of being missional than we have ceased to be like Jesus. Mark 1:14 says that Jesus came “proclaiming the gospel.” He also healed sick people, fed hungry people, cared for little children. But his primary message was “repent and believe.” Since His ministry did not separate meeting people’s temporal suffering from giving them the only solution to their eternal suffering, then neither should ours. We should be missional in the fullest sense of the word.
So does being missional mean we are all missionaries? Maybe in some sense. But in the strictest sense, a “missionary” is someone who leaves their familiar and natural culture and enters into a foreign culture different from their own. Sometimes this means crossing seas and oceans. Often it means learning a new language or new way of life. I think it helps to keep this distinction in mind. In the strictest sense, most of us are not missionaries. Most of us live and work and raise our families in our native culture. But some of us are called to leave family and home and take the gospel to people who have not heard. These people are “missionaries” in the strictest sense of the word.
And while most of us are not called to be missionaries, ALL of us are called to be a part of cross-cultural missions. If not as “goers”, then as “senders.” The apostle asked, “And how are they to hear (the good news) without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:14-15) The ramifications are clear. If we are not going as missionaries, then we should be sending. Sending our financial support. Our prayers. Our resources. Our encouragement.
So, which are you? A sender or a goer? It’s got to be one or the other. Maybe you are a sender now but sense the calling on your life to one day go. Then prepare yourself to go. Maybe you will never “go.” Then you are to be about “sending.”
At Providence Road, we are committed to “missions” in this cross-cultural sense. We support the Smileys (a missionary family in Suriname). We send teams regularly to support missionaries in their work. We give. We go. We send. But we are also committed to “being missional” at home. In our city. In our neighborhoods. In our schools. When we talk about being “missional” we mean that in the fullest sense of the word. That is, we support caring for “the least of these.” Really caring. Meeting real, tangible, here-and-now needs. But we also believe that the cruelest thing we could do to an orphan, a single mother who needs financial assistance, a homeless person without a meal, is to withhold the one thing that could bring everlasting relief from all sufferings. So we bring the gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ. After all, that is what Jesus did as well.
So, which are you, an evangelist or missionary? If you are a follower of Christ and a member at Providence Road, then you ARE an evangelist. You are a bringer of good news. But you are also called to cross-cultural missions, either as a sender or a goer. I am grateful for a church family that understands that these two distinctions exist and seeks to be faithful by calling its members to be people who bring the gospel with them as they go about their day-to-day routine AND to be people who are either sending cross-cultural missionaries or going out as ones.