“When the church is seen
to move straight from worship of the God we see in Jesus to making a
difference and effecting much-needed change in the real world; when
it becomes clear that the people who feast at Jesus’ table are the ones
in the forefront of work to eliminate hunger and famine; when people
realize that those who pray for the Spirit to work in and through them
are the people who seem to have extra resources of love and patience in
caring for those whose lives are damaged, bruised, and shamed; then it
is not only natural to speak of Jesus himself and to encourage others
to worship him for themselves and find out what belonging to his family
is all about but it is also natural for people, however irreligious
they may think of themselves as being, to recognize that something is
going on that they want to be part of. In terms that the author of Acts
might have used, when the church is living out the kingdom of God, the
word of God will spread powerfully and do its own work.”
The Desiring God website has a series of answers that John Piper gives to questions that people send in. Today, Dr. Piper answers the question - 'Why is differentiating between evangelism and missions important?' You can read or listen or watch the answer here.
A friend of mine asked what me (and others) what we thought about Piper's answer. Here's my response:
What I appreciate about John is his concern that the mission of God
extend to unreached people groups. He has been banging that drum since
a lot of us were wearing diapers and I thank God for that.
He has also stood firm in insisting that evangelism is a word – a
declaration about what has done in time and space through Jesus Christ.
This is critical in a church world that increasingly resonates with the
pseudographical word attributed to St. Francis – ‘preach the gospel,
use words if necessary.’
Here’s where the problem begins to creep in for me (and no, I don’t
think his distinctions hold up across the course of the Scriptures). I
remain concerned that the brothers in T4G (particularly Dever and
Piper) are taking what is of first importance in the gospel (‘Jesus
died for our sins’) and extrapolating that as the full weight of the
gospel, as though God’s complete mission can be summarized in the
justification/sanctification/glorification of individuals (to the glory
of God) with less attention given to the biblical emphases placed on the
renewal and redemption of cultures and creation (they don’t ignore them
but see them as implications of the gospel).
You see the effect of this in the answer Piper gives to the
distinction between evangelism and missions. If he had said, ‘Yes,
there is a difference between evangelism and mission(s). The mission of
God is a holistic blessing of the nations that includes what we call
evangelism but it’s more than just the words we say – it involves every
aspect of our lives. There is no mission of God apart from the story of
God’s work in and through the cross but God’s mission is bigger than
evangelism’, he would still uphold the necessity of declaring the
gospel word – whenever, wherever – without creating what I encounter
with Piper fan-boys who think the only thing that matters in life is
evangelism and bonus points if you do it across an ocean.
I see two particular opportunities to get all of us back on the same page:
- Clarity on the mission of God. Is the mission of God more than a declaration of the gospel?
- Clarity on what constitutes a culture. Is cross-cultural ministry something that can only take place on foreign soil?
So as a guy whose very first interaction on the internet back in ‘95
was to print off every John Piper sermon available from 1980 to 1995, I
would say that yes, there are distinctions between evangelism and
mission(s) but in this case I don’t believe Dr. Piper’s distinctions
hold up against the Scriptures and I don’t find them particularly
What do you think about Piper's distinction between evangelism and missions? Does this fit the shape and scope of the Scriptures? How would you answer the question?
Much campus ministry over the last century has merely been an
extension the local church work of basic disciple-making onto a nearby
campus. Should it continue? Perhaps it should, especially with
international students and others who might need extra time to
integrate into local churches. But to offer a “spiritual kindergarten,”
I suggest, is not the central mission of campus ministry. It
is the main responsibility of the local church, and campus ministries
instead should do what they are peculiarly situated and, I trust,
equipped to do.
Evangelism on campus? Of course that should continue. That’s “on the
job evangelism,” which every Christian ought to do. And with a special
“people group” in view—namely, university students and professors—one
can tailor apologetical and evangelistic initiatives to their
distinctive needs. When people do respond positively to such
initiatives, then campus ministries must connect them with local
churches and their helpful programs in basic Christian life: with Alpha
programs, small groups, Sunday School classes, and the like.
Without this clear sense of what they are to do versus what the
local church is to do, campus ministries neglect their particular work.
Thus they compound the problem by competing with local churches: “Why
even go to a local church? It’s so much less interesting than this
student group”—which in the nature of the case is tailored to and
includes only this nicely homogeneous demographic! Thus campus
ministries in effect train students in a “non-local-church” paradigm,
which devastates them upon graduation as they must, in fact, make their
way into local churches or flounder alone.
I'm thankful for the students and the campus ministries we're connected to on the University of Georgia campus. We're engaged in some really fruitful discussion about how the church can partner with these ministries to help students grow and thrive as missionaries to the campus, living in community, empowered by the gospel.
There’s a radical difference between tribal and missionary mindsets.
The highest value of the tribal-minded is self-protection. Since these
people feel safest around those just like them, they ask, “How can I
protect myself from those who are different?” They intentionally
surround themselves with those who think the way they think, like the
things they like, and despise the things they despise.
We all seek out sameness, as John Seel notes: “We cope by settling
into our safe intellectual cliques—our favorite blog, cable channel, or
e-zine—where our own views are reinforced and applauded. Without really
trying, we can easily lose sight of the wider horizon and fail to
listen to those who do not think as we do.”
As a result, tribally minded people live with a sense of
superiority, looking down on those who are unlike them. This is the
“fashionable” posture of our culture.
In contrast, the highest aim of mission-minded people is not
self-protection but self-sacrifice. Mission-minded people exist not
primarily for themselves but for others. They’re willing to set aside
personal preferences in service to those with different preferences.
They’re willing to be inconvenienced, discomforted, and spent for the
well-being of others.
Once a man has the love of Christ in his heart you need not train him
to witness; he will do it. He will know the power, the constraint, the
motive; everything is already there. It is a plain lie to suggest that
people who regard this knowledge of the love of Christ as the supreme
thing are useless, unhealthy mystics. The servants of God who have most
adorned the life and the history of the Christian Church have always
been men who have realized that this is the most important thing of
all, and they have spent hours in prayer seeking His face and enjoying
His love. The man who knows the love of Christ in his heart can do more
in one hour than the busy type of man can do in a century. God forbid
that we should ever make of activity an end in itself. Let us realize
that the motive must come first, and that the motive must ever be the
love of Christ.
Sam-I-Am is a true believer in Green Eggs and Ham. He really wants his friend to try it.
Lessons we can all learn:
Some people are natural evangelists. Find your Sams.
It's about helping.
Sam is doing it because he wants to help his friend, not because he's
paid to or part of some marketing program. All word of mouth has to
come from a passion for the product and a desire to help.
Don't be annoying.
Even though Sam's friend did end up liking green eggs and ham, Sam is
way too pushy. Aggressive evangelism is always a turn-off.