by Mike Stroope
Concern about local church involvement in missions usually centers on the church’s ability to do missions with excellence and to affect strategic progress for the gospel. I recently heard a church leader remark, “Missions is none of our business. Let’s leave it to the professionals who can do a much better job.” What is behind such a statement?
The attitude of many in church and mission circles is that progress is the goal and excellence is the means. In other words, if we are progressing, it is because we are people of excellence. If we have excellence, we will see progress. One follows and builds on the other. Thus, progress and excellence become the standard and measurement for what we do.
The idea of progress permeates our society. In school, we are taught that progress is the aim of every aspect of life. From television, we hear that we should not be satisfied with our toothpaste, our current automobile, or our financial investments but progress to that which is better. New books appear weekly to give us formula and inspiration on how best to achieve progress through excellence. Hordes of consultants and management gurus point us to the latest technique, church growth principle, or inspiring slogan that will propel us to levels of excellence. And from church and mission leaders, we are informed that bigger facilities, greater numbers, and larger results are signs of success.
The message is that we can do better, accomplish more, and be more satisfied. We are meant to climb, increase, and improve. If progress is not our experience, then the problem is a lack of excellence. If we are not progressing, then something is wrong with us.
We need to acknowledge that constant improvement and innovation are not necessary for a better life, a deeper truth, or the mission of God. And we must recognize that an obsession with excellence is evidence of our reliance on self and organization. Progress and excellence are tenets of a worldview that places the ascent of humankind at the center of the universe and our ability to produce at the helm.
Is this kind of progress what God needs or desires? Does “my utmost for his highest” actually mean my highest effort, my highest achievement?
Surely laziness, waste, fraud, and passivity should not characterize our lives, and yet, the route to God’s purpose may not be upward, straight, or without pain. His way may be a descent or exile, imprisonment or death.
The ‘excellence and progress worldview’ misleads us at two points. First, it does not take seriously our fallen nature. No matter how much we improve or increase our capacities, we are still selfish, fallen men and women. Our best efforts miss the mark. It is only by the Spirit’s transformation and power that we do any good work.
Second, it tends to point to us— our ability, our effort. Numbers and results that can be credited to our excellence create pride and cause us to claim what does not belong to us. Most talk about numbers and results is thinly veiled bragging and boasting to others. Glory belongs to God alone.
The legacy of the humiliated and imprisoned John the Baptist is not the numbers he baptized or the ministry he built. Rather, his satisfaction and personal identity rest in Jesus and not in an illusive idea about ability and progress. John simply declares, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” The expansion of the early church was via “uneducated and untrained” men and women (Acts 4:13). Without a doubt, the miraculous witness to the ends of earth was by power of the Holy Spirit, not the professionals.
If the local church operates on the basis of what is most efficient or what will produce the greatest results, then it should by no means do missions. The task is far beyond our best efforts. No amount of creative or strategic thinking can bring Hindus and Muslims to Jesus Christ. If, on the other hand, the local church submits itself to the mission of God, it will witness the increasing power of God in and through its frail, broken, and common members. It is through God’s mission that it knows real power, true purpose. In the end, missions is none of our business; it is God’s business.